Chaplain David Plummer: Where Faith and Healing ConvergeApr 2009
Chaplain David Plummer is a man driven by his devotion to God, to his family and friends and to every patient he comes in contact with as the team coordinator of Sentara CarePlex Hospital's Chaplaincy Services Department. The department, which also serves Port Warwick Medical Arts in Newport News, is composed of over 30 volunteer clergy (both scheduled and on-call), five associate chaplains, as well as students from two seminaries and two graduate schools of psychology and counseling.
Plummer began his career in chaplaincy as a volunteer nursing home chaplain in 1980. After serving in health care, correctional and military settings, he joined Sentara in 1999. There he immersed himself in the study of biomedical ethics (the philosophical study of the ethical controversies in health care settings), and in 2000, he completed a fellowship at the University of Virginia's Center for Biomedical Ethics. Today he serves as an ethics consultant to Sentara physicians at CarePlex as well as Port Warwick Medical Arts. He is co-chair of the hospital's ethics committee as well as the research ethics consultant for the Sentara Center for Healthcare Ethics, which analyzes the moral and ethical questions confronting health care today. Plummer is also active with the Eastern Virginia Medical School Institutional Review Board, a committee charged with protecting the rights and welfare of research participants.
In addition, he is responsible for clinical supervision of master's degree practicum (first-year) students and interns (second-year students) at both the Regent University School of Psychology and Counseling and the Old Dominion University School of Psychology. Plummer is also pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree with an emphasis on pastoral care and counseling at Regent University.
In a recent phone interview with The Health Journal,Plummer, who is also a licensed marriage and family therapist, discussed religion, ethics, laughter and tears, and the roles these play in today,s health care environment.
HJ: What life events led you to become a chaplain?
DP: I really enjoy interacting with people and care about their struggles. I come from a religious background, and so it just seemed to be a natural fit. On a deeper level, there was a sensing by my inner person that this was what I was supposed to do.
HJ: Did you attend a house of worship throughout your childhood?
DP: My folks come from an evangelical background. Growing up, we were in church on Sundays, attended Sunday school beforehand and also Wednesday night Bible study. It was the classic church experience where afterwards we would get together with family and friends to eat and enjoy each other's company. But even though I did all that, and would listen to and appreciate the Bible’s stories, up until my teens I was an agnostic. Later, through a number of events, I became convinced of God's presence and his love for me and other people. That was my motivation to enter into chaplaincy.
HJ: What part of your job do you struggle with ?emotionally?
DP: The hardest part for me is when babies are brought into the Emergency Department and are not breathing and are unresponsive, and in fact, die. We have a number of SIDS deaths in the community, and from time to time we see abuse cases of babies and little children. As a dad, well, I instinctively think of my own child. I guess all the feelings associated with that kick in.
HJ: What part of your job brings you the most joy?
DP: My joy comes from talking with people and working with them. I experience it watching people in spiritual or emotional stress or duress come to a position of acceptance, where they are not in continuous turmoil over their circumstances or situation—that's very satisfying.
HJ: What makes you cry?
DP: It’s hard to get me to cry, but when I do it is generally not a wailing cry, but tears of joy when I see something that is awesome and holy. To see a person achieve something or show tenderness to someone else, or when perhaps someone has made a personal breakthrough—that makes me tear up.
HJ: What makes you laugh?
DP: Spending time with my daughter. She has a wonderful sense of humor. Seeing her and hearing her comments—she just makes me laugh. She is the joy of my life.
HJ: What frustrates and/or angers you?
DP: Injustice, and when I see people being manipulated. In life, there are some very strong personalities—people who are used to getting their way and want to run roughshod over the values or wishes of others. I often see families who are very conflicted with one another about what the extent of treatment should be for Mom, Dad, Aunt Gertrude, whomever. Because of my experience with this, I cannot stress enough the importance of everyone having an advance directive, which is also called an advance medical directive. It’s a way for people to express to their physicians, the hospital and ultimately their family and friends what their wishes are if they are not able to speak for themselves.
HJ: Tell us about the role of ethics in medicine.
DP: The whole concept of ethics is doing the right thing by the patient. We need to make sure that the decisions that are made for patients who are not able to speak for themselves are in their best interest. On the research end, we need to make sure that if patients are given the opportunity to participate in a medical research study, the patient fully understands the benefits as well as the risks involved. We also need to minimize the risk to patients as much as possible. All patients deserve the best and safest health care available.