The Influence of an Experience-Based Religion and Spirituality Elective on Spiritual Competency
Lawrence Lin, Mahveesh Chowdhury and Benjamin Whitfield, Medical Students, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; and Stuart Nelson, MA, Vice President, Institute for Spirituality and Health
The objectives of medical education seem concrete: to learn the relevant pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of diseases. However, there is far more to becoming a compassionate physician that includes caring for the whole person. In 1999, the Association of American Medical Colleges published the “Taskforce on Spirituality, Cultural Issues, and End of Life Care” to establish guidelines of how to teach medical students knowledge of the psychological, social and cultural determinants of health. The guidelines were abstract with goals to be “aware of the need to incorporate awareness of spirituality”. The implementation of this education was largely left to individual medical colleges. Most medical schools have spiritual education in this modern day; however, the majority of courses are superficial, taught through outdated pedagogical techniques including slideshow presentations and memorization of primary research articles. Recognizing the need for a more effective approach, the authors conceived an experiential curriculum designed to enhance students’ understanding of the spiritual and religious dimensions of health. In this paper, the authors explore the influence of a community-based program, “Sacred Sites of Houston: How Faith and Medicine Interact,” at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The program provides students with the opportunity to visit sacred places of worship and interact with faith leaders and congregation members. The participants learn the basic beliefs and practices of the respective faith and how it addresses biomedicine and the body. Congregants who have faced personal illness or hardships of a loved one’s illness dialogue with the students. The course has discussed a multitude of world traditions including Islam, Baptism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Baha’i, Zoroastrianism, and Quakerism. Students develop insight through theological reflection and personal narrative in order to formulate an anchor point for how a patient’s faith interweaves with their disease course. To evaluate this experiential-learning elective, the authors interviewed course participants with a minimum of three months of clinical experience following the course using a semi-structured qualitative interview guide. A subset of training level-matched non-participant classmates were selected randomly as the control cohort and interviewed with the same guide. All interviews were conducted by one interviewer. Interviews were transcribed, made anonymous, then codified by two or more readers using a master list of themes and sub-themes. In this paper, the authors compare and contrast attitudes towards religion and spirituality (R&S), conception of the role of R&S in healthcare, and clinical practices abounds between course participants and non-course counterparts. The authors will evaluate the influence of an experiential-learning program on shaping participants’ qualitative views regarding R&S in a clinical setting.