I am both a medical doctor and an educator, I’ve been teaching student doctors for more than 16 years. When I teach, I want those students to do better and to go farther than I ever did. I would love them to avoid some of the mistakes I have made. I have recognised that my own student training really didn’t prepare me well for the job I needed to do. You see my training was all about anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and many other ‘-ologies’. I learned about diseases, tests to diagnose them and drugs to treat them, but found I knew little about people, their families and communities, and I wasn’t too sure that meeting me made a lot of difference to those in my care.
I gradually began to learn more about the messiness of healthcare in the complex world of real people, their families, their communities, their struggles. I learned that when someone experienced adversity in childhood it makes their risk of premature ill-health and death increase with each added adverse experience. I learned that those who had missed out on important childhood attachments had different biological responses to certain drugs. I learned that often the ‘disease’ was far more complex than a drug could treat or cure. I learned that listening and caring had more value than scores of the drugs I had learned about. Most importantly I learned to put all of these things together, and I suppose this is what we call holistic care: care of the whole person, not just a body part or a disease.
The spiritual part of the whole person can be both a source of illness and also a source of healing and wellness. I have met clinicians who use, and teach on asking about a persons spirituality, but for medical students this is most often restricted to the context of palliative care; looking after people and their families as they near the end of their lives.
So, I have a dream that one day every person will meet a doctor or a nurse or a counsellor who will ask them about their spirituality and will listen deeply to their response. Spiritual care is for life, not just for death! I have a dream that one day every student and every doctor will have the words and the tools to start this conversation. I have a dream that one day everyone visiting their doctor, nurse or counsellor will know that their spirituality is an integral part of their health and well-being – both physical and emotional. I have a dream that this will open the way for spiritual care to be routinely offered and normalised.
In the end my dream is to see people healed and restored and living in full and complete health; from the inside out.
Dr Lysa E. Owen
If you want to hear more of her thoughts around integrating spiritual care and understanding more fully into medicine, you’ll enjoy her recent conversation with Pete Carter on In Real Life – do have a listen and be inspired!