Spiritual Counselor Paul Fullmer comes home to Mission Hospice
Becoming a spiritual counselor with Mission Hospice might have seemed preordained for Paul Fullmer. Both of his sisters and his parents work or worked in medical care; his mother Ruth was an RN Case Manager with Mission Hospice for more than a decade before retiring in 2021.
Instead, Paul’s goal was to serve as a chaplain at a small liberal arts college, something he did in Pennsylvania for 12 years – and loved. But as his folks aged, he wanted to return to the Bay Area.
He thought working in spiritual care for Mission Hospice would be a good fit, as he saw parallels to his work on campus. “College students – like patients at end of life – are at a turning point. So they are asking some of the same questions as they are rethinking their self-worth, re-evaluating their beliefs.”
However, despite being an ordained minister with a PhD in Biblical Studies, he needed an additional year of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in order to provide spiritual care in a health care setting.
So Paul shifted his sights, and in 2019 he took a role as our volunteer coordinator, working with Craig Schroeder and Constance Sweeney to train and manage our direct care volunteers. Meanwhile, Paul was accepted into Stanford’s CPE program, a year-long interfaith program of professional education that includes intensive reading, reflective essays, and clinical rotations at the hospital.
The reflections “help you understand yourself and who you are – and how that impacts your patient care,” Paul says. “It’s life-changing, and it benefits all of your relationships.”
As it turns out, just as Paul was graduating, Mission Hospice had an opening for a spiritual counselor, and he’s grateful to be back.
He says his experience in the volunteer department is useful in his new role. “Sometimes I will be praying or singing with a patient or family member, and I know that I can transfer that role to one of our amazing volunteers so that I can devote time to the next patient.”
Those connections with patients matter most to Paul. “Sometimes people have become disconnected from their faith community for some reason – including the pandemic – and our presence can help reconnect them to a source of spiritual support.”
“There’s a great value for chaplaincy even apart from traditional religion, through emotional support” he says. “We offer the power of listening and of being present. People can really open up and share in amazing ways at end of life. I love hearing their stories and wisdom.”
While Paul’s life is filled with his new career, continuing care for his father, and spending time with his daughter and his partner, he somehow finds time to play piano and guitar, and sing.
He is also dedicated to his study of Chinese culture and Cantonese, studying one character each morning (and considering it “a kind of mantra” for the day). He says that while he’s not yet fluent, he knows enough Chinese language to introduce himself to families, and finds that a useful way to start connecting. And he feels like it’s working; as a patient recently told him, “I really don’t like religious people, but I like you!”