Top Doctors 2005: Listening In

As a speech therapist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Addy Schultz has been around sick patients and their families for 31 years. But she’d never experienced anything like the time last fall when she was on call as a volunteer “Spiritual Shepherd.” Paged in the middle of the night, she rushed to a waiting room just in time to see two sisters get horrible news: Their vibrant elderly aunt had suffered an aneurysm and was brain-dead. As the women took it in, Schultz stepped forward and asked if she could help. She spent the next three hours listening as they cried, laughed, and came to terms with the situation. “They had the whole gamut of emotions while I was there,” Schultz says. “They just needed someone to hear them out.”

Since Jeff started the Spiritual Shepherds four years ago, 30 staffers — secretaries, security guards, lab workers — have trained to be on call for at least 15 hours a month. On one night’s stay at the hospital, Schultz sat by the bed of a cancer patient who wondered aloud whether God was punishing her. Another night, in the cardiac unit, she held the hand of a woman whose partner was being revived on a table. “I come with no agenda, nothing that I’m pushing,” Schultz says. “And people always say how glad they are that I was there.”