Jun 13 2012
Balancing science, faith: Researchers studying how medical schools help doctors incorporate religious beliefs [Excerpts]
After discovering that silence on matters of spirituality left some patients unsatisfied with the care they received at the University of Chicago, two doctors there and four faculty scholars have chosen to examine how some medical schools either encourage or discourage physicians to integrate their faith both in conversations with patients and their own professional lives. Doctors who set their faith aside, they say, can become disillusioned and less effective.
"When doctors are dispirited, the care they give to patients is worse," said Dr. Farr Curlin, co-director of the Program on Medicine and Religion. "Patients should be very hopeful that their doctor sees their work as a remarkable privilege, even a holy privilege, that will make the doctor respond to that patient out of joy."
Both Curlin and Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, an internist who also serves on the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, said they believe that as the gap between health care and religion has widened, the quality of care for patients has diminished.
For Curlin, an evangelical Christian who also serves as a hospice and palliative care physician, the pursuit is a labor of love and a calling. For Sulmasy, it is an application of lessons learned as a medical ethicist who found that doctors were coming to him for help with existential dilemmas in addition to ethical ones.
Both men say policymakers and insurers have perpetuated that sense of alienation by treating health care as nothing more than a business. That has led some doctors to feel unfulfilled. Many seem to have forgotten the calling that led them to medicine, having been urged to abandon that way of thinking and focus on science, Sulmasy said.
"The kinds of questions and the kinds of places where medicine intersects the lives of patients and the clinicians are the same places religion does: birth, suffering, death, sex," he said. "These huge human questions are part and parcel to what the clinician lives day in and day out. These are eternal questions."