Editor’s note: This blog is written by Vanderbilt internal medicine resident Dr. Derek Feussner who recently completed four weeks of training at Siloam. He writes about his experience…
So often, in large urban medical centers, patients come and go with little focus given to their spiritual, emotional and cultural well-being. As residents at Vanderbilt, we strive to do a phenomenal job taking care of acute medical problems, diagnosing and treating complicated illnesses and performing research to advance medical knowledge. What we often overlook, however, is a patient’s spiritual health.
During my time at Siloam, I was able to see firsthand the direct relationship between spiritual, mental and physical health as it relates to a patient’s entire care. I remember taking care of one such patient who presented for a routine follow-up visit. Based on my chart review of her chronic medical conditions, her normal recent lab work and the appropriateness of her medication regimen, it figured to be a straightforward patient-physician interaction. However, when I entered the room and began speaking with her via an interpreter, it became clear there was much turmoil in her life. She had recently lost her husband and was attempting to care for her young daughter with limited resources and limited social support. Her entire family still resided in her middle-eastern homeland and her contact with them was limited. Using the skills I had learned through my daily interaction with Siloam’s wonderful medical team I was able to obtain a social work and pastoral consult in one single visit. She met and prayed with our pastor and was set up with resources to obtain medications and care for her daughter. There was nothing specifically wrong with her body’s physiology, but her health was certainly suffering and she was spiritually ill.
Throughout “generic” medical training, residents are taught about religion and how it relates to medicine; about poverty and how it affects patients access to adequate health care – but what we never learn is how to truly care for someone in their entirety. The majority of patients have strong spiritual belief systems and these intertwine entirely with how they perceive illness, medical intervention and prevention of health problems, but as residents we rarely inquire as to patients spiritual needs. Being able to work in an environment where taking a spiritual history is “normal” has opened my eyes to the need for a more holistic approach to patient care. I look forward to carrying this knowledge into my future practice.