Chaplain Utufa’asili McDermott

Faith is consistent. It is a tangible thing we have been able to hold on to during these uncertain times. It has brought solace and hope in a time when so many of us are searching to find answers to some existential questions: why us, why now? The idea of religion and spirituality bringing purpose is nothing new, just ask  Pacific Health Ministry (PHM) Chaplain “Utu” McDermott who is serving at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children. A recent graduate from PHM’s Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) residency program, she carefully details the journey she describes as her time of “becoming;” a transformation that has benefited our community as a whole.

At the age of 45, Utu decided to go back to school to pursue her aspirations of becoming a religion teacher. This would eventually lead her to realize a new dream while doing pastoral field education with patients in hospice care. As she notes, “something was kind of changing for me,” and it was while volunteering, interning, and completing a residency program, that becoming a Chaplain became her central focus.

Likening her story to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Utu notes the metamorphosis which likens them both. “Before I used to feel like I was the little red hen trying to take care of everybody . . . please everybody … I now feel like I’m Dorothy opening up these different doors to my life and figuring out who I really want to be. The last door that I opened up in my life is becoming this Chaplain.”

Each phase of Utu’s life journey has served as a “rite of passage,” so deeply influential in shaping her into the person that she is today. While completing her CPE training at the Queen’s Medical Center, Punchbowl a trauma level one medical facility she thrived off learning skills related to consistency and compassion—the very staples of her character that make her such a beacon of hope and light among those she serves. Utu understands that it is her humanity that allows her to step into the patients’ shoes and to empathize with their deep-felt pain and suffering. It is about healing the very spirit that fuels the recovery of the body.

When the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States first occurred, there was a level of fear and uncertainty that permeated our society. Completing nine months in the COVID unit of the ICU, Utu found herself at a crossroads when presented with the choice of whether or not to continue her work. As she explains, “I thought, I’m going to do this. Yes, I am scared, I feel fear, but those people feel fear too.” In times when patients were left without the comfort of family or friends, Utu was there to support them with conversation, understanding and special prayer cards.

Engaging in this work is by no means easy, but also nothing short of worthwhile. In becoming a Staff Chaplain, she currently works predominantly with babies and young children. Known as Chaplain Utu, she has found that this experience has pushed her to become more in tune with who she is. As she notes, this job is not one in which you can thrive off of inauthenticity. It requires a deep understanding of who you are and of those around you.