Ames is retiring after twenty-nine years as Episcopal chaplain to become senior associate minister at St. Martin’s Church in Providence. He will remain a clinical assistant professor of community health.
BAM Why did you come to Brown?
Ames I had an interest in biomedical ethics, and Brown was just beginning its medical school.
BAM What was the attraction?
Ames When I became a chaplain at Rhode Island College, a dean asked if I could help a young female student find the funds to terminate her pregnancy. That was in 1971. I had not thought about abortion, so I talked to colleagues, did some reading, and wrote a position paper. I said to the dean, “Yes, I’ll help her find the money.” It occurred to me that abortion was the tip of an iceberg.
BAM What can a chaplain bring to medical education?
Ames We focus on the art of medicine rather than scientific data. I can teach medical students how to listen to patients, how to assess emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs, and how to focus on the environment out of which a patient comes.
BAM How have students changed during your tenure?
Ames A great deal of social activism came out of the civil rights and antiwar movements. In the later seventies and the eighties we saw a drop-off—the concern was individual success. Since 9/11 there’s perhaps more anxiety. Also, there are a lot of students whose parents dropped out of religion. They’re concerned that they and their offspring have some sense of religious identity and purpose. So I think there’s a swing back.
—Interview by Emily Gold Boutilier