Alumnus Jeff Braff Recipient of 2021 Service Award
A Q&A with Jeff Braff Emm 1T9
EC: Why did you choose to come to Emmanuel?
JB: Two reasons really. Firstly, because Emmanuel offers training in Buddhist spiritual care from a world-class educational institution, and secondly because it would allow me to be close to my children and grandchildren, all of whom are in Ontario.
EC: Tell me a bit about your background—what were you doing before you arrived at EC?
JB: I am an infectious-disease epidemiologist by training and have been a practicing Buddhist since my early adulthood. After working at the University of California—San Francisco and at Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest non-profit healthcare organizations in the U.S., and teaching at the School of Public Health at the University of California—Berkeley, I retired in the early 2010s and was ordained as a Buddhist monk after study in Dharamshala, India. Becoming a Buddhist hospital chaplain seemed to be a natural progression for me.
EC: Tell us about your journey since leaving Emmanuel.
JB: Between my first and second years of the MPS [Master of Pastoral Studies] degree program, I completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, where I was the chaplain on the paediatric oncology unit. I am now a chaplain/spiritual care provider, working nights and weekends at St. Michael’s Hospital, a level I trauma centre in downtown Toronto. I also chair two research ethics boards (a holdover from my infectious-disease epidemiology days) and am pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Toronto School of Theology through Regis College.
EC: What degrees and other recognition have you received over your career?
JB: While Western Buddhist chaplains aren’t that unusual anymore, I guess it’s still pretty unusual to have one who is a monk. I’ve had the opportunity to tell the story of my journey to the CBC and other news outlets. I’m gratified that people are interested in what Buddhism and chaplaincy have to offer to people who are suffering. I sit on Emmanuel’s Buddhist Advisory Committee, a group of folks who provide suggestions and advice for how the Buddhist stream MPS program might consider going.
EC: What has been the most rewarding part of your work in service?
JB: Just that: helping those who are suffering, whether they’re patients who are ill or dying, their loved ones, and even hospital staff who have suffered so much as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
EC: What stands out in your recollections of studying at Emmanuel?
JB: Emmanuel is an open and welcoming place for students of any faith tradition, or no faith tradition at all. All are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their beliefs. My secret hope is that one day Emmanuel will offer a humanist MPS degree!
EC: Anything else you’d like to share?
JB: I’m deeply honoured to receive this award, and look forward to working in hospital spiritual care and supporting Emmanuel in its work for many years to come.