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Acad Med. 2002 Nov;77(11):1167.

The role of spirituality in patient care: incorporating spirituality training into medical school curriculum.

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  • 1University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Medicine, 64108, USA.



To answer the call for the implementation of spirituality into medical school curriculum,(1) UMKC-School of Medicine has incorporated experiential spirituality instruction into the third year of a six-year combined BA-MD degree program. The multifaceted objective of the program is to (1) expand students' conceptualization of the patient as person to include dimensions of spiritual beliefs and needs, (2) develop an understanding of how patients' spiritual belief systems impact their health, (3) recognize how the student's spiritual beliefs impact his or her practice of medicine, and (4) highlight the value of the chaplain as a member of the health care team. With increased understanding of the role spirituality plays in healing as well as the spiritual services available to patients, students will be able to serve the needs of their patients.


To accomplish this objective, students participate in lectures on spirituality, small-group activities focusing on skills such as taking/crafting spiritual histories, and an on-call experience with a hospital chaplain. During the oncall experience, students shadow a chaplain for approximately six hours. The experience includes discussing philosophies of spirituality and medicine with the chaplain, rounding with the chaplain, visiting and praying with patients when requested, comforting family members, and assisting with advance directive discussions and paperwork. After completing the experience, the students are required to write a reflective essay examining the following components: (1) the interaction between the chaplain and other members of the health care team, (2) the utilization of alternative interview and history taking methods, (3) the connection between spirituality and illness as illustrated through patient encounters, and (4) the insights gained from the experience that can be applied to the practice of medicine.


The writing of one's spiritual history and the on-call experience were integrated into a new portion of the curriculum. The components were initially met with some reticence. In the beginning, students had difficulty distinguishing spirituality from religion and were concerned that the curriculum would take away from their study of "real medicine." To ease concerns regarding the spiritual history, the course director modeled the objectives by sharing her own spiritual journey. Participation in the on-call experience substantially changed students' negative attitudes toward the curriculum. Essays revealed that the on-call experience had greatly impacted their view of the chaplain as well as their practice of medicine. Specifically, students demonstrated an understanding of the role of spirituality in healing, identified key components of the chaplain role in the hospital setting, shared ways in which they would utilize chaplains in the future, and discovered personal struggles. Crafting one's spiritual history, the on-call experience, and essays will continue to be a required part of the third-year curriculum. Modifications include adding the option of constructing one's own advance directive and striving for increased diversity of spiritual perspectives. The data provided in the essays and course evaluations will be utilized in several ways to determine the success of the curriculum and to answer critical research questions in the areas of spirituality and medical education.

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