Chaplains serve the spiritual needs of others, regardless of their faith, culture, or backgrounds. Chaplains are rooted in their own spiritual and religious traditions, and therefore are able to powerfully and compassionately provide presence and accompaniment to others, including supporting the life-affirming practices, beliefs, and rituals that strengthen them. >more
Chaplains work in numerous sectors in which people face suffering: healthcare, hospice, corporate, campus, prison, disaster and crisis response, social justice movements, and more. Chaplaincy employment opportunities are expected to increase with the rising visibility and research-backed appreciation of their work in recent years, and US demographic changes. Chaplains work outside of religious institutions. Professional chaplains in the US are differentiated from clergy – religious professionals such as priests, rabbis, imam, who serve adherents within their own religious communities – by where and who they serve, as well as by their training. Buddhist religious professionals may be both chaplains and dharma teachers, depending on their lineage, training, and contexts of spiritual authority and service. >more
The landscape for chaplaincy is complex, dynamic, and sector-specific. While an MDiv degree alone may open some doors for employment in spiritual care fields, for the majority of our students, the MDiv degree satisfies one important requirement for employment or certification, but there may be additional requirements for which students must plan and we support.
The Maitripa College Master of Divinity (MDiv) is recognized by the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) as fulfilling the graduate theological education requirements for those seeking Board Certification. Maitripa College is an APC-approved Endorsing body as well. We currently accept applications from alumni who wish to be Endorsed for professional chaplaincy by the President of Maitripa College. These two credentials – graduate theological education and Endorsement – are two of the four requirements for becoming a Board Certified Chaplain in healthcare. They may or may not be sufficient qualifications for employment as a chaplain depending upon the sector in which you are interested in working.
Chaplains work in a wide variety of institutions and contexts, and employment criteria vary greatly. Some organizations and individuals provide spiritual care which is offered by volunteers, such as community clergy members; this service role may be open to you as a graduate, but most will not consider this ‘professional chaplaincy’. Some employers require only a theological degree such as an MDiv, and then provide their own sector-specific training. This is common for the military, as well as some corporate, campus, and other chaplain employers, without any requirements for clinical training or certification. Some of these – particularly chaplains seeking employment with the Federal government (Department of Justice, Armed Forces, Federal prisons, and the Veterans Affairs) may require a nationally accredited MDiv degree. (See below for more about Maitripa College’s accreditation status.) A graduate degree alone is not sufficient for Professional Chaplaincy in most cases, however. Students must seek sector and employer-specific criteria for employment qualifications.
Professional chaplaincy in many sectors requires an MDiv or comparable graduate theological degree plus one or more unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Some recognize the value of specialized certificates, such as in social justice, community, environmental, mental/behavioral health, or palliative chaplaincy. Some Hospice and hospitals will hire chaplains at the Associate’s level with the graduate degree and one or two units of CPE.
The most rigorous employment requirements, found in all hospitals and common in Hospice and prisons, is Board Certification from the Association of Professional Chaplains’ (APC) certification office (BCCI). There are four requirements for Board Certification: Graduate theological education of 72 credits (Maitripa’s MDiv qualifies); Endorsement from a Faith-based Community (Maitripa is an Endorser); Four units of CPE; and minimum hours of provisional employment as a chaplain. The Maitripa College MDiv degree and Endorsement meet these highest standards for healthcare chaplaincy and Board Certification with APC/BCCI, Inc.
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is professional training for chaplaincy in a clinical setting, most often a hospital, in which, like an internship, students learn through an Action-Reflection model, e.g., by learning through hands-on, real-world engagement under the supervision of a qualified educator.
Maitripa College does not require, but strongly encourages, one unit of Accredited CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), and awards six transfer credits towards the degree for successful completion of one summer or one extended unit of CPE. The unit of CPE includes 100 hours of educational work with a supervisor and cohort, including individual supervision, and 300 hours of clinical time, usually spent with patients and families in a hospital, but also includes spiritual care to staff and the institution as a whole. One unit of CPE is commonly completed during a summer prior to a student’s final year in the MDiv program. We thoroughly prepare students for the application and admission interview process through mentorship and classes.
Students are solely responsible for their applications, tuition, and fees to CPE programs. Maitripa College is not responsible for successful placement of students in CPE internships or residencies. Maitripa College students who are accepted to a clinical chaplaincy internship in an accredited CPE program and complete one unit of CPE, receive six transfer credits within the MDiv program. One unit of CPE is an excellent opportunity to discover one’s strengths and growing edges, and to discern whether continued clinical training towards a career in spiritual care in any setting (not just healthcare) will inform studies and post-graduate plans.
CPE Residencies are typically post-graduate, year-long, paid, full-time programs, usually of four credits of CPE. Since 2013, Maitripa College students have had a 100% acceptance rate for ACPE internships, and a 100% acceptance rate for alumni seeking post-graduate CPE Residency programs. Of those who subsequently sought part-time or full-time employment as chaplains, over 90% have been hired, and many remain in the field years into their careers.
For a detailed overview of Buddhist education for chaplaincy in the United States and the requirements for becoming a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains, readers are referred to “The Path to Buddhist Chaplaincy: Academic Education, Religious Endorsement, Professional Board Certification” by Gauthier, Kinst, Miller, and Yuen, available in the 2020 version at Chaplaincy Innovation Lab or as an updated chapter in the forthcoming book Refuge in the Storm: Buddhist Voices in Crisis Care (North Atlantic Books, 2023).
In brief, the four requirements are:
- 72-credits of Graduate Theological Education
- 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education
- Religious Endorsement
- 2000 hours of chaplaincy employment
Note that there are other certifying chaplaincy organizations, with evolving requirements, and not all chaplaincy sectors nor employers require, or recognize, certifications for professional chaplaincy.
If I am interested in pursuing a meaningful livelihood as a Board Certified Professional Chaplain, what is my path from MDiv degree application to certification? How long does it take?
If one pursues the MDiv at a full-time pace, the degree can be completed in three years as follows:
Your first year of an MDiv begins in late August, followed by a 4-6 week break in the winter, and spring term concluding in May. Students should plan on enrolling in 10+ credit hours per semester, including core Philosophy, Meditation, and Service required courses.
MDiv students are encouraged to enroll in the Classical Tibetan Language Summer Intensive, June-August, for four credits.
In this first year, students are encouraged to understand APC requirements for Endorsement, and begin to consider where they may want to be employed and from whom they may want to obtain recognized Endorsement. They should request information from potential endorsers about their requirements, and integrate this preparation into their degree planning.
Students should plan on enrolling in 10+ credit hours per semester. The second academic year, August-May, is ideally followed by one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) or external field education/clinical internship, June-August, for 6 credits. In the fall semester of the MDiv student’s second year, CPE is discussed in depth, and students draft applications to CPE programs. Students are encouraged to submit applications to CPE admissions committees between November – February of their second academic year.
Students should plan on enrolling in 10+ credit hours per semester, including their Action Research Project (capstone).
Students are encouraged to apply in October of their third year for full time, post-graduate CPE Residency programs if they wish to pursue a career in healthcare chaplaincy or sector requiring additional CPE and/or board certification. The third year of the MDiv may be completed in May, and student may have completed Endorsement requirements, or still be working on them. Commencement Exercises are in mid-May.
If a CPE Residency has been secured, a postgraduate full time CPE program typically lasts from September-August. Residents seek employment following CPE, and become eligible, after 2 years of employment experience, to apply for Board Certification. Students may also continue to pursue Endorsement in postgraduate years, up to the time of applying for Board Certification, by which time it must be obtained.
Some Maitripa students prefer to complete some or all of their MDiv degree on a part-time basis, or have family, work, or other obligations to balance with graduate school. Many students complete the MDiv in four years, and students are permitted to take up to seven years to complete the MDiv degree requirements.
Working in interfaith, multicultural contexts and across multiple “axes of difference” is both fulfilling and challenging for many Buddhist chaplains. Buddhist chaplains describe how their experience as a religious minority – in the United States generally, as well as in clinical training programs and in their institutional settings among staff and those served – makes them sensitive to the needs of other minority groups (religious, racial, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and intersectionality.
Additionally, Buddhadharma presents practices and wisdom on multiple topics that support working for the benefit of all, including diverse others. Buddhist chaplains report considering it part of their role to be advocates for social justice and dismantling oppression. Buddhist chaplains also may have strong capacities to serve non-religious, “not religious but spiritual”, and non-theistic people, and those who previously experienced harm in religious contexts.
Buddhist chaplains, however, also themselves at times face the challenges common to many minority and oppressed groups. They are strongly urged to connect with other Buddhist chaplains and mentors for support. Many are intentionally proactive in their self-care and seek multiple methods of coping sustainably with the isolation of being the only Buddhist in the room, the recipient of discrimination, and working within inequitable systems and hegemonic Christian contexts. Buddhadharma has tools to offer for self-compassion, equanimity, ethics, healthy boundaries, mindful awareness, which emergent leaders in the field of Buddhist chaplaincy are mining and explicitly leveraging for Buddhist and non-Buddhist professionals.
Maitripa College has held degree granting authority from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission of the State of Oregon since 2008 and plans to become accredited through the Northwest Consortium of Colleges and Universities in the future.
The Association of Professional Chaplains has recognized Maitripa College’s MDiv degree as the graduate theological educational equivalency of a degree accredited by the US Department of Education. This means that our degree fulfills the educational requirement for those seeking Board Certification with the APC’s affiliated Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the highest standard certification which is most widely accepted and sought by employers across the U.S.
As the professional field diversifies, other certifying bodies have arisen with different criteria; the Maitripa College degree may or may not meet all professional organizations’ certification or employment criteria. We have not yet established relationships with all the proliferating clinical training and certification bodies, but suspect if they learn about us and our degree requirements, other equivalencies could also be obtained. Nonetheless, we urge caution for students, as many newer organizations’ trainings and certifications are not yet widely recognized as qualifications by employers; it is an evolving field! Meanwhile, Matripa College has excellent relationships with the ACPE (Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, which accredits CPE programs) and the APC (Association for Professional Chaplains), the pre-eminent training and certification bodies today.
Maitripa College has had Degree Granting Authority within the State of Oregon from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission since 2008. All Oregon universities and employers are required to recognize the Maitripa College credential. As Maitripa College is not yet accredited by the U.S. Department of Education’s accrediting bodies, some agencies or employers may not recognize the Maitripa College degree outside of Oregon. In practice, our MDiv students and alumni have been recognized as holding valid academic credentials when applying for Clinical Pastoral Education programs and employment as Chaplains, in Oregon, California, Connecticut, and New York to date.
We encourage you to speak with us about the significance of accreditation to your educational plans, as the importance of it may vary by individual. In general, areas in which you may notice it include Federal loan funding, which is not available to students at non-accredited schools, transfer credits (whether or not another school awards credit for coursework is within that school’s discretion), and recognition of the degree by another school in connection with a PhD program.
This school is a non-profit corporation and is authorized by the State of Oregon to offer and confer the academic degrees and certificates described herein, following a determination that state academic standards will be satisfied under OAR 583-030. Inquiries concerning the standards or school compliance may be directed to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Office of Degree Authorization, 3225 25th Street SE, Salem, OR 97302.