April 7, 2012

Setting faith aside can make doctors less effective, researchers find

Doctors and scholars examine how physicians are discouraged or encouraged from integrating their faith and their practice.

Chicago Tribune

(Continued from page 1)

Medicine and Spirituality
click image to enlarge

Dr. Daniel Sulmasy examines a patient in the acute care clinic at University of Chicago Medical Center . Sulmasy serves on the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/MCT

While she still doesn't advertise her evangelical Christian faith to patients, she does establish during the initial appointment what role religion plays in her patients' lives, in case that becomes the basis for decisions they make over time. If the person shares her Christian faith, she lets them know they have something in common.

Though the American Medical Association has no policy encouraging or discouraging a separation of church and medicine, the Joint Commission, the accrediting agency for health care institutions, requires medical professionals to receive some training in spiritual care.

Still, there are some who believe God talk should be taboo in medicine and religion should play no role in a doctor's bedside manner.

Richard Sloan, professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University and author of "Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine," argues that only a chaplain should bring up religion. Doctors should avoid the risk of patients making decisions about their health based on their caregiver's beliefs instead of sound medical advice, he says.

"No matter how smart patients are, they're still subordinate in a relationship with a physician," Sloan said. "Even as well-intentioned as Sulmasy and Curlin are, there's too much at risk."

Curlin said it is indeed important to let the patient take the lead in such scenarios to avoid the appearance of proselytizing.

But the introduction of a doctor's faith in the clinical setting can be unwelcome for other reasons, especially when a doctor comes from a minority faith tradition. To delve deeper, Curlin and Sulmasy secured a $2 million grant to fund four faculty scholars including Padela. An assistant professor of general internal and emergency medicine at the University of Chicago, Padela will explore the challenges facing American Muslim doctors like himself.

His course was charted on Sept. 11, 2001, when as a second-month medical student Padela helped treat victims in an emergency room a mile from the twin towers. At the end of the day, bus drivers wouldn't let Padela board their buses to go home, he said. Later, patients refused his care because they didn't want "a terrorist" treating them, Padela said.

But incorporating his Muslim faith also gives him a peace of mind when it comes to providing emergency care and comfort for patients he usually sees only once, Padela said.


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