However, she said doctors and instructors need to be living out this example with real patients, which is a topic that is rarely discussed. She said that in the past it was taboo for doctors to discuss a patient's sexual history, which is an essential aspect of understanding a patient's physical health. She said that similarly, doctors will not approach the subject of spirituality because it is too private or considered to be unrelated to health care.
"In some ways, the spiritual history parallels that of the sexual history. For years, the sexual history was considered 'off limits' in the clinical encounter, perhaps because it was too private a subject or not relevant for most medical providers, or perhaps because providers were uncomfortable talking about a diverse range of sexual behaviors," the opinion piece said.
To introduce the topic, she said, doctors could begin with a questionnaire, like the FICA spiritual assessment. But, this important topic should eventually transcend a questionnaire, she said, noting that a deep human interaction extends beyond the paper. She said understanding the whole person will help doctors best understand how to treat their patients.
"I think this best happens in a relationship and I have relationships with my patients… What gives your life meaning? That question can oftentimes open up a lot of really interesting insights into your patients," she said.
"[These questions] can help inform your decisions when it comes down to end of life or goals of care conversation."
She emphasized the importance of faith in her own life and how that has given her a valuable perspective on the treatment of patients. She said it is the responsibility of physicians to set an example of a medical practice that honors human dignity.
"I see patients made in the image of God and I want to be able to attend to everything that is causing them distress and to be able to use my team to be able to attend to that," she said.
"We have a responsibility as medical educators to teach our medical students and residents and fellows how to deliver whole-person care because that honors the dignity of the person. And, we know that patients want to be seen as more than just their disease or their biology."