NYC's Beth Israel Medical brings in Buddhist chaplains

At Beth Israel Medical Center, a 1,368-bed facility in New York city, there's one rabbi and two Catholic priests working to comfort patients in their times of need. That's typical of most facilities, virtually all of which make chaplains available to patients.

What's more unusual, however, is that Beth Israel also has more than 20 Buddhist chaplains and chaplains-in-training on its staff. Like their fellow chaplains at the facility, the monks help patients feel calmer and more at peace with their diagnosis. While they function something like existing chaplains, the monks also offer less-conventional help, including bedside meditation sessions and interdenominational prayers.

The Zen chaplains help patients release stress and relieve pain through breathing exercises, meditation and conversation, which help patients feel more comfortable despite not providing a cure. Moreover, hospital staffers say the monks have been able to reach patients who don't want to work with a rabbi or priest.

How unique is Beth Israel's approach? The hospital's program is the first Buddhist chaplaincy training program accredited by the leading accreditation body, the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. If the program is a success, however, it's unlikely to be the last.

To find out more about Buddhist chaplaincy:
- read this piece from the Chicago Tribune