Katarina N. Bergh, MDiv, staff chaplain, Spiritual Care Services

Second-year Harvard medical students attend a spiritual care immersion session led by BWH Spiritual Care Services staff.

For the past two years, Harvard Medical School has offered a course designed to assist second-year medical students with the transition from academic work to clinical practice: Transition to the Principal Clinical Experience course (for core specialty rotations). Some of the modules take place at Harvard Medical School, while others are in the hospitals where the students will be based for the year.

BWH Spiritual Care Services staff lead a clinical immersion module for the course, with chaplains of different faith traditions exposing medical students to the diverse spiritual perspectives of BWH’s patient population. This year, sessions were led by Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, Catholic and Buddhist chaplains.

Andrew Eyre, MD, a physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine and course creator, described his vision for the Spiritual Care module as:

“The goal of these experiences is to expose the medical students to aspects of medicine and the hospitals that they may have had less exposure to and to help them understand how different services and health professionals interact with each other. Given that Spiritual Services can be an invaluable, but sometimes poorly understood resource for the clinical team, we are interested in creating an experience for the students that deepens their understanding of Spiritual Services.”

In the module, medical students are encouraged to explore ways in which a patient’s religion or spirituality can impact the experience of illness as well as medical decision-making. Other objectives include:

  • To examine how a brief physician-oriented spiritual assessment may improve clinical care
  • To explore why spirituality matters to physicians in hospital settings
  • To introduce the range of services provided by BWH Spiritual Care Services and the many roles chaplains play in the institution
  • To clarify when a spiritual care consult is needed

The module includes case studies, question and response, and role-play based on BWH cases in which spirituality played a key role in medical decision-making and physician-chaplain collaborations were critical. After completion of the course, 100 percent of participants have indicated they would be more likely to complete a physician-oriented spiritual assessment to determine the impact of spirituality on clinical care. They also reported being more likely to create a spiritual care consult for a patient or family.

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