April 21, 2010

The Strength of Unity

2010 1512 page11 cappirituality and wholeness are among the defining values of the School of Medicine. In keeping with Loma Linda University’s mission “to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” Wil Alexander, founding director of the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness, introduced the notion of “whole person care” approximately 30 years ago with the encouragement of B. Lyn Behrens, immediate past president of Loma Linda University.
Whole-person care clinical integration continues at present through Alexander, as well as Harvey Elder, clinical professor of medicine for the School of Medicine, and others whom they have mentored. Their focus is that each patient, no matter what the illness, is unique and valued.
2010 1512 page11The School of Medicine works with the School of Religion to design educational courses that address spirituality and wholeness. In their first year of education, medical students take an orientation class cotaught by religion professors and physicians as a way of highlighting the connections between Scripture and the clinical setting. They also take a course that helps them explore and nurture their own wholeness. In connection with this course they spend time on the newly developed Wholeness Portal (www.explorewholeness.com) and establish personal goals, as well as track their progress in relation to those goals. As one student stated, “This is the reason I came to Loma Linda University. I wanted to develop personal wholeness, integrate it into my profession, and then tell the world about it.”
A course included in the second-year curriculum focuses on integrating spirituality and wholeness with patient care. In their fourth year students have the option to take a Whole-Person Care elective. In all, each medical student signs up for seven courses that explore spirituality and wholeness issues, including biomedical ethics.
Another aspect of their education involves attending the Health and Faith Forum, coordinated by the Center for Christian Bioethics and the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness, which provides an arena in which students join with clinicians to explore faith issues as they connect with ethics and wholeness.
Finally, each year medical students are invited to a Spiritual Care Workshop, where faculty, administrators, and students discuss issues related to spirituality and whole-person care. In this workshop they spend an afternoon in a practicum where they actually visit patients with a mentor who helps them integrate whole-person care at the bedside.
“It was amazing to see all these levels of people working and talking together,” one student said.
Educational opportunities are not the only avenues through which medical students explore wholeness issues. From the beginning of the admissions process, they are led to explore their reasons for taking medicine, and encouraged—through the academic process—to address personal wholeness issues in relation to the challenges, responsibilities, and stressors of medicine. A physician-led Bible study group takes place on the campus and is attended by large numbers of medical students. Medical students are also encouraged to develop their own projects related to whole-person care, and some have joined together to produce a pocket-sized whole-person care guide titled Hands on Wholeness. The newly published Morning Rounds devotional book reflects the joint effort of many health-care professionals and students who see the importance of starting each day with God.
In keeping with the value of reaching out to the community, each year about 60 to 80 medical students spend a month or more of mission service at health-care facilities in developing countries. Those who spend time in mission service often say, “It changed my life.” But it not only changes their lives; it changes the way they view others and the way they view and practice their profession.
Carla Gober, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., is director of the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness and associate professor of Religion, Psychology, and Health in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. This article was published April 22, 2010.