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Acad Med. 2002 Jun;77(6):562-73.

The spirituality of academic physicians: an ethnography of a Scripture-based group in an academic medical center.

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The Acadia Institute, Exton, Pennsylvania 19341, USA.


Whether acknowledged or not, spirituality is part of the human condition of physicians as well as patients, and of the distinctive work that doctors do. This paper presents a first-hand sociological account of a group of 20 academic physicians in a large, urban, East Coast academic medical center who met weekly to study theological concepts drawn from Christian Scripture. The principal method of inquiry was participant observation over the course of an academic year. In analyzing the "talk" and interaction that took place among them, the authors observed not only some of the implicit tensions between medicine, religion, and spirituality but also the complementarity between them. While the group's explicit purpose was to foster spiritual growth and connectedness, it also provided a venue in which members dealt openly with problems of uncertainty and meaning that the practice of medicine inevitably raises; with the meaning of physicianhood, given the growing corporatization of medicine; with an opportunity to engage in "worried consultation" with their spiritual-medical colleagues about their mutual patients; and to underscore for each other their dismay about the absence of spirituality in medicine, on the one hand, and their belief about its importance on the other. The authors also highlight some of the ways in which spirituality influenced these physicians' medical outlook, and conversely, how that outlook shaped their mode of spiritual reflection.

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