Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is a transformative, supervised contextual learning experience in the spiritual care of others. 

Many denominational or adjudicatory bodies require CPE for ordination, and students who are discerning or seeking ordination should contact their adjudicatory body to learn whether CPE is a requirement for them.

CPE is a cornerstone component of the Divinity School’s vocational pathway toward chaplaincy. For more information on this pathway, see below.

The essential elements of CPE include:

  • the actual practice of ministry to persons
  • detailed reporting and evaluation of that practice
  • pastoral supervision
  • a process conception of learning
  • a theoretical perspective on all elements of the program
  • a small group of peers in a common learning experience
  • a specific time period
  • an individual contract for learning consistent with the objectives of CPE
  • the CPE program must be conducted under the auspices of an Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE)-certified supervisor (faculty) attached to an ACPE-accredited CPE center.

Students can take a basic unit of CPE over one term (usually Fall, Spring, or Summer) or in an extended unit (usually over two terms).

Master of Divinity students may use a basic unit of CPE to meet up to half of their field education requirement. Students may also elect to receive academic course credit for CPE. Divinity students may receive credit upon completion of any accredited CPE program. More information about CPE, including a directory of accredited programs, can be found at the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE).

Vocational Pathway Toward Chaplaincy

Chaplains are ordained clergy who provide pastoral care as representatives of the church in a variety of institutional settings, including hospitals, prisons and correctional facilities, military, education, police and fire departments, corporate businesses, and more.

Duke Divinity alumni serve as chaplains across denominations and institutions, and their theological and pastoral education at Duke Divinity prepares them to serve as Christ’s ambassadors in these contexts. The Divinity School offers a vocational pathway toward chaplaincy, or a framework to support students as they structure their academic and co-curricular experiences toward this end. This pathway includes advising on how to pursue ecclesiastical endorsements; recommendations for additional coursework in pastoral care, theology and medicine, prison studies, Christian education, and more; informational interviews with practitioners and alumni; and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).

Suggested Vocational Pathway in Chaplaincy

Ecclesiastical Endorsements & Ordination

An ecclesiastical endorsement and/or ordination is required for chaplains working in healthcare, military, and prison settings. Students are encouraged to work with their denomination’s adjudicatory body and any governing agencies or institutional bodies to learn more about what each requires for endorsement and chaplaincy.

Students from Free Church, congregational, or non-denominational backgrounds may need to affiliate with a denominational body who can endorse their candidacy.

Academic Coursework

All students pursuing chaplaincy should take Introduction to Pastoral Care and at least one additional course at Duke Divinity School or a partner university in subjects related to a particular form of institutional chaplaincy, which may include courses on pastoral care, theology, or a particular type of institution.

Field Education & Clinical Pastoral Education

All students interested in vocational chaplaincy should strongly consider completing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) while at Divinity School. Certain types of chaplaincy require five units of CPE, most often met by completing a basic unit of CPE (completed during Divinity School) followed by a yearlong residency (completed after graduation).

More information about CPE can be found at the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE).

Vocational Formation

Duke Divinity School offers additional programming and academic opportunities that can help students discern and prepare for vocational chaplaincy.

This includes:

  • Certificate programs, such as the certificates in prison studies, Christian education, or theology, medicine, and culture
  • Participation in our annual Chaplaincy and CPE Day (hosted each October), which allows students to meet with chaplains and area CPE programs
  • Relationships with alumni, mentors, chaplains, and other educators who can support students through their program
  • Providing academic credit for participation in CPE
  • Providing financial support toward the cost of CPE for MDIV students