Devon Barnett ’15 never planned on becoming a hospital chaplain. After graduating with his bachelor’s in criminal justice in 2015, he started working at GEICO. Over the next five years, he worked his way through the ranks, eventually becoming a supervisor. While he had enjoyed success in his career, Devon felt stuck. He felt like his life was missing something and started praying for direction.
In 2021, Devon was visiting a family member in the hospital and met Brian Hurley, a hospital chaplain and the director of Pastoral Services at Lakeland Regional Health (LRH). Devon’s interaction with Brian led him to enroll in Lakeland Regional Health’s Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program.
A New Direction
“I got his contact information. Next thing you know, we’re talking back and forth and all of a sudden, I’m in a CPE program. I quit my job at GEICO, and I enrolled back into a master’s program at SEU,” said Devon. “My ultimate goal is to be a board-certified hospital chaplain. Ever since being in the hospital, I feel like that’s my calling — that’s where I’m supposed to be.”
Devon was the first Southeastern student to graduate from Lakeland Regional’s CPE cohort, and he is now earning his Master of Divinity (MDiv).
Students in the MDiv program are required to take at least one ministry practicum course. Previously, students who wanted to do a hospital chaplaincy practicum had to go to Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida. Southeastern University’s partnership with Lakeland Regional provides students at SEU’s Lakeland campus with an opportunity to get their practicum hours at a local hospital.
LRH’s Clinical Pastoral Education program is a provisionally accredited CPE center and practicum option for graduate students at SEU. Students can enroll in a full-time 10-week program that includes 300 hours of hospital rounds and 100 hours of education and supervision, usually held in the summer. There are also part-time units and a yearlong, paid residency that allows students to get on-the-job experience working as hospital chaplains.
“It’s one thing to be in a classroom setting and learn about things,” said Devon, “but to actually experience it is another thing. You realize pretty quickly if this is for you or not.” During his time in the CPE program and as a part-time, on-call chaplain, Devon has had a variety of experiences ministering to patients, from calming nerves to comforting families dealing with the deaths of their loved ones.
“Some days you’ll go in and you’re just talking to individuals that are a little bit anxious or worried or stressed. Other days you’re walking into a room where someone just died,” said Devon. “You need to go into each room and be respectful. Understand that each individual has their own life, has their own upbringing, has their own understanding. You’re not going in there just to preach Jesus at them. But at the same time, you’re trying to love them as Jesus loves.”
His experience in the program helped prepare Devon for his current role at LRH and helped move him toward his goal of becoming a board-certified hospital chaplain. “In any pastoral role, healthcare is a major dynamic,” said Dr. Zachary Tackett, the faculty supervisor of graduate study practicums at SEU. “I see that as a primary concern of the pastorate. There’s a huge need for that.”
“I highly recommend this program, not just for people trying to be chaplains, but for pastors or anybody that’s trying to be in leadership in the church,” said Devon. “A lot of times the church setting has a typical vibe, but the hospital is its own animal. I would recommend anybody and everybody to at least do one unit just to check it out.”
The CPE program at Lakeland Regional is available year-round for students with at least a bachelor’s degree. Southeastern University students can also complete a hospital chaplaincy practicum at other area hospitals in Tampa or Orlando. For more information about SEU’s MDiv program and the hospital chaplaincy practicum, visit this page or contact the graduate enrollment counselor for ministry programs at firstname.lastname@example.org.