Today we explore the mindset a medical provider ought to have in approaching spiritual care. I’m blessed to be a part of an office that actually takes the time to pray together as a staff before seeing patients. This reminds us of the purpose of why we all came to work and gives us the proper way of thinking as we all start our day.
You may not have such a staff but praying at the beginning of your day to ensure you have the right mind set makes a ton of difference.
I believe every medical provider who wants to provide spiritual care should have these 3 recognitions.
- Recognize the value you bring to your patient. As a medical provider we carry the knowledge and expertise to help fix a patient’s problem. However, the totality of our value is not limited to the solutions we provide.
Our ability to be fully present increases our value beyond only providing solutions. According to one study, patients spoke uninterrupted for an average of 12 seconds during an office visit. As a physician, I know I have to constantly resist the urge to interrupt patients especially when they are explaining their story.
Being fully present sometimes means I need to stop typing. Turn away from the computer screen. Turn my body toward the patient. And look them in the eye.
This quote by Henri Nouwen is something to aspire to:
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. “ – Henri Nouwen.
In order to touch wounds I need to be fully present.
- Recognize the power differential. The physician carries expertise, training and the ability to order tests, prescriptions and perform procedures. The patient comes to the physician in a vulnerable position – whether in pain or feeling sick. This makes patients more willing to acquiesce to our requests than they normally would. It would be unethical to impose religion on a patient at this time. Any spiritual response from our patients needs to come from a place of authenticity not coercion.
- Recognize the appropriate opportunities for spiritual conversations and/or prayer. Not every encounter with a patient warrants a spiritual conversation or prayer. However, I’ve noticed a pattern of situations where patients are most open to receiving such support.
The patient who is fearful. The moment you sense fear with a patient is the time to be fully present with them. It may also be a good time to pray with them. I usually will gauge this by asking the patient: Are you spiritual or religious at all? If they seem open I will say, Some patients have found it helpful when I’ve offered a prayer up for them. If there is even a little bit of hesitation I back off and move on with the visit. But most times I’ve found patients grateful for this.
The patient who is amazed. Sometimes, the patient is filled with wonder after they go through our clinic. The care received leaves them so grateful. I’ve taken these opportunities to deflect the glory to God. You know Mr. Smith, I think God had something special in mind for you today. So what you’ve received is actually a blessing you’ve received from him. Doing this takes the focus off of the care I give and directs it towards God’s mysterious way of working.
The patient who is dealing with an enormous amount of stress. The doctor’s office is the place where patients may unexpectedly unload. While many physicians fear situations like this, it can serve as a powerful moment to connect with a patient. Again, being fully present with a patient is key. You want to listen so intently to them you can almost feel their pain. After a few minutes of this I will probe for any faith or spiritual background. One way to do this is to ask the question, “Do you have a source of strength?” or “What keeps you going through this difficult time?” Sometimes, the conversation shifts toward matters of faith. Other times it shifts toward relationships (it may be their children or their pets). Regardless of the answer, you’ve tapped into something close to the heart. And if it’s close to the heart, that’s intensely spiritual.
The patient who needs to make a difficult lifestyle change. Making a lifestyle change is a spiritual issue because it deals with motivation. Some may bring up their desire to please God and as a result they want to quit smoking. Others bring up the love they have for their spouse or child or grandchild. Discussing motivation can lead to meaningful conversations.
Are you a medical provider who desires to deliver spiritual care? What are other patient situations you’ve found appropriate to discuss spiritual care? Leave me a comment.