At first glance, spirituality and healthcare might seem like incompatible concepts. The field of medicine is based on science, meticulous empirical research and is the ultimate expression of man’s triumph over nature. On the other hand, spirituality and religion are in many ways of vestige of more primitive times when humans needed to invent explanations to deal with overwhelming natural phenomena. However, the importance of spirituality in healthcare becomes more understandable if one remembers that medical institutions are responsible for caring for their patients’ physical illnesses and psychological states. Doctors have a duty to cultivate a sense of trust and respect with every one of their patients, many of whom might be religious. In general, any profession involving human interaction has to consider its consumers’ belief systems and values.
Furthermore, it should be recognized that spirituality and religion fulfill numerous functions. It is quite clear that the cognitive aim of religion — explaining life, death, dreams — is being replaced by belief in human scientific research in modern times. Instead of accepting disease as God’s will or turning to shamanism when they have a cold, patients go to hospitals for medical intervention. However, religion also fulfills an important emotional function by soothing people in times of crisis or extreme anxiety. Healthcare settings are sources of stress for patients and their family members. Thus, it is expected that they would appeal to supernatural forces to relieve their nerves or simply feel as if they are actively contributing to the healing process. The role of spirituality as a coping strategy for the stress of healthcare settings is important to keep in mind for medical professionals.
As the American population grows more diverse, more variants of spirituality are also appearing among patients in healthcare: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc. The development of cultural competence is a pertinent issue in healthcare at the current moment. African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx, and Muslims report dissatisfaction because they perceived a diminished quality of care due to their ethnicity or race (Swihart, Yarrarapu & Martin, 2021). To avoid the influence of subconscious biases, medical professionals should always strive to keep an open mind and approach patients from different cultural backgrounds with respect and understanding. In some cases, a patient’s spiritual beliefs might even impact their medical decisions regarding diet, interventions involving animals products, and the gender of their health provider (Swihart, Yarrarapu & Martin, 2021). For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses might refuse blood products, and Muslims prefer a same-sex practitioner (Swihart, Yarrarapu & Martin, 2021). While doctors should always suggest the most optimal course of action to preserve health, they should also know when to take a step back and accommodate their patient’s beliefs and spiritual needs.
Given these issues, I believe that all healthcare providers must undergo cultural awareness training. Medical professionals need to be aware that their assumptions about what is “right” or “logical” are mostly a function of their environment and the ultimate decision rests with their patient. Different cultures have different conceptions about the proper approach to death that might have clinical significance. Furthermore, socially ingrained stereotypes about certain ethnicities might impact the doctor’s decision-making. Both medical schools and institutions need to address these problems in a field where a patient’s life potentially depends on it.
In conclusion, spirituality is an indelible part of healthcare, given that all patients have an individual belief system based on their religious preferences. Medical professionals need to recognize this because it fulfills an important emotional function in the inherently stressful setting of healthcare. Furthermore, spiritual values might affect medical decisions, and therefore healthcare providers must propose interventions that correspond to the patient’s values and beliefs. I believe that the most optimal way to ensure that every culture is treated with respect and consideration is for all medical schools and institutions to initiate cultural awareness training.
Swihart, D. L., Yarrarapu S. N. S., and Martin, R.L. (2021) Cultural religious competence in clinical practice. StatPearls Publishing. Web.