Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Spirituality in healthcare

One third of American medical schools have decided to bring spirituality back into healthcare and many of them require courses on spirituality and health, reported Dr. David Larson at the recent Spirituality and Healing in Medicine symposium, sponsored by Harvard Medical School's department of continuing education.

The question of spirituality becomes very important when facing serious illness or chronic illness, especially where "there is not much we can do as doctors," according to Larson, president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research and adjunct professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. He added that, "When people have an illness in the United States, God becomes a very important part of who they are."

Physicians are not well equipped to deal with patients with terminal illnesses, according to Larson. "There is much less fear of dying and (our skills) can be much more effective when we begin to address and support this, especially in their last year of life," he said.

The National Institute for Healthcare Research is collaborating with the John Templeton Faith and Medicine Curricular Award Program to help train medical students on how to address the spiritual needs of their patients. Many of the courses include looking at death and dying from different faith traditions.

"What we've found is, when we simply show them what to do, how to ask the questions, how to begin to address the issues, there is a lot of receptivity. Many of these medical school courses work with chaplains. That's been unheard of. (Students) will (go on rounds) with chaplains, and these are the most skilled group in dealing with death and dying," Larson told Reuters.

The rapid growth of spirituality in the medical school curriculum is demonstrated by one simple statistic: "Three years ago, only three US medical schools taught courses on religion and spiritual issues; there are now nearly 30," Larson noted.

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