For Paul Mugane, his role as a chaplain at Sharp Grossmont Hospital is more than a paycheck; it is a way of being — an embodiment of vocation.
You can sense his humble conviction in every warm smile he shares, and his deep, steady voice can comfort just about anyone. He is an essential part of the hospital’s care team and was recently recognized with Sharp HealthCare’s prestigious Spirit of Caring award.
While Paul didn’t envision a career in faith, each chapter of his journey led him to finding his true calling.
An indirect path
Paul grew up in Kenya with his parents and four siblings. They are a close-knit family who value faith, justice and fairness. His father was a denominational minister of various congregations. As a young man, Paul’s father had been imprisoned for being a freedom fighter during Kenya’s struggle for independence from England. His teachings impressed upon Paul the importance of dedicating oneself to issues of human dignity, human worth and justice, as well as advocating for those in need or without a voice.
“I didn’t have the desire to lead a parish,” Paul says. “Even as a child, I knew by watching my father work that it was no small task. But I did always find myself yearning to deepen my understanding of my faith. It wasn’t enough to just listen to a sermon. I wanted to learn more, ask hard questions, and analyze the meaning of faith and its relation to its practical application.”
Paul moved to the United States at age 21 and earned a bachelor’s in psychology from the Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. By the end of his junior year, he realized that pursuing higher education in faith was what he was called to do. After completing his undergraduate degree, he was accepted into the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities — an ecumenical seminary, representing multiple faiths — to pursue his master’s in divinity.
“It was the best time in my academic life. I have always hungered for spiritual diversity, so I chose this program to gain exposure to other denominations,” Paul explains.
Shortly after graduating, Paul worked as a pastor in a local congregation for about 17 months. In 2005, Paul and his wife, Tara, moved to San Diego so their two sons could be closer to their maternal grandparents. Here, Paul taught language arts and social studies at the private academy where his sons attended. In 2015, Paul was laid off from the school due to budget cuts. Paul saw this as an opportunity to pursue chaplaincy so he applied to the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program offered by Sharp Memorial Hospital. He had been considering a career change for some time.
“Hospital chaplaincy is so unique, there’s nothing like it,” says Paul, who knew his passion for interacting with spiritually diverse populations, as well as his educational background in psychology and ministry, would help him flourish in such a role.
After completing the CPE program and working per diem for a time, Paul found his permanent home at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. Since 2017, he has been a source of comfort and guidance for patients, their families and staff.
Caring for all
In addition to his duties as a chaplain, Paul also has several other projects at Sharp. He hosts Tea for the Soul, a non-religious program to help staff relax and refresh during their shifts. He also has held “empathy salons” for Sharp leaders, and helps the Sharp Equality Alliance host their quarterly diversity education forums for employees.
While he is a busy man, you never feel rushed when speaking to him. He also is never one to push an agenda or force a conversation one way or another.
“My role — whether I’m helping a patient who has just received difficult news, or talking through sensitive subjects with an employee — is to listen with empathy, relieve anxiety and gently introduce a new perspective or view when needed to hopefully encourage my conversation partner to engage in the needed work that yields movement into new insight, understanding and practice,” says Paul.
He adds that you never know the impact even the smallest interaction can have, so he approaches each conversation with humility, mindfulness and genuine care.
Caring for caregivers in a tumultuous year
Like almost everyone else, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the work Paul and his fellow chaplains do. He sees the toll it takes on hospital staff who face the virus day in and day out, as well as the patients who cannot see their families during their time of need due to visitor restrictions.
Additionally, the past year has been marked by social unrest and a heated election cycle. Paul and his team members have been there to guide staff through these emotionally and spiritually taxing times.
“I see the impact it has on all levels of staff,” Paul says. “I hope we can get through this without damage to our souls. It is a tough burden to carry, but I am in awe of our staff who continue to stand on the threshold between hope and despair. They are an awesome sight to behold.”
Caring for himself
Caring for the spiritual well-being of so many people, especially in a hospital setting, can be demanding, but the work Paul does fuels him. He takes care of his mind and spirit by grounding himself in his own beliefs, traditions, reading and religious practice. He stays physically active and has recently started practicing yoga.
Paul is also deeply thankful for the people around him. His academic colleagues help him to continue to grow through engaging conversations. His family anchors him through their love and support. He also emphasizes his gratitude for his fellow hospital chaplains and their manager, Jodi Gross, who creates a profoundly supportive environment to thrive as chaplains.
While his job is not without its challenges, Paul knows he has found his place in this world. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have a career where I consistently have experiences that remind me why I chose this job, or rather, why this job chose me,” he says.