Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who are the experts in spirituality in health care (revisited)

At the Spirituality in Health Care Education conference, yesterday, one of the speakers give a list of people one major health care center is considering inviting to be a scholar-in-residence on health care and spirituality:

  • Ira Byock, MD -- long time palliative care physician and advocate for improved end-of-life care. and author of Dying Well.
    • I heard Dr. Byock speak at our hospital some months back; it was very worthwhile!
  • Ed Pellegrino, MD -- Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics at the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Georgetown University Medical Center.
  • Stephen Post, PdD -- Professor of bioethics, of philosophy and of religion at Case Western University. He is also president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, which focuses on the scientific study of phenomena such as altruism, compassion, and service and author of a series of books on ethics, aging and health.
  • Christina Puchalski, MD -- Professor, Departments of Medicine and Health Care Sciences at The George Washington University School of Medicine.
    • Her work, especially on helping doctors come up with ways to do spiritual assessment, was mentioned prominently at the conference.
    • Here is an article that mentions her work and contrasts it with her critics.
    • She is the author of A Time for Listening and Caring: Spirituality and the Care of the Chronically Ill and Dying
  • Richard Sloan, PhD, professor of behavioral medicine (in psychiatry) at Columbia University and a critic of spirituality in medical education. Author of Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine.
  • John Stone, MD -- Former professor at the Emory medical school. Now, a "poet, essayist, cardiologist and lecturer".
  • Rabbi Gerald Wolpe -- A rather famous Philadelphia-area rabbi who has become very involved in bioethics in his retirement.

Note that this list is long on people who are professors at medical schools and/or are physicians. Bioethics -- as opposed to spirituality per se -- also seems to be heavily weighted on this list. Some of these people have published books that are fairly well known among the general public.

I suppose the emphasis on medical school professor types -- as opposed to the kind of people better known among the general public as voices on spirituality and healing -- should not be surprising. After all, this list comes from someone speaking at a a conference superficially concerned with medical education, as opposed to interests of the general public.

I think that also gives a hint as to why the room was not packed at the conference. The organizer seemed surprised by this - after all, there is an explosion of interest out there in spirituality in medicine, so wouldn't you expect there to be a large number of people interested in hearing about it?

But, I think it is always important to keep in mind who our audience is. The conference, as it was put together, wasn't, for example, really oriented towards doctors (or medical students). There may indeed be a large number of doctors who are interested in learning how to integrate addressing patients spiritual needs into their practice. But this conference actually had little for them -- it, instead was oriented to people (perhaps me!!) who might give seminars or classes to teach doctors and medical students about these things.

Further, maybe you would have had a packed room if the conference had been oriented towards the general public (that is, to the average patient or family member). Perhaps a _sexier_ title might have been -- how to get your doctor to listen your spirit (and not just treat you like something that has a disease).

But, that would have been a different conference. And, I was glad to be at this one -- one oriented to people (like me!) interested in how doctors are educated. Doctors, obviously, will always be in a much more influential position to influence the shape of health care than (the very small number of) chaplains can ever be. If doctors can be acculturated and trained to expect spirituality to be a central part of health care, then it will.


By the way, here is the first post I made on this subject.

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