Integrating Spiritual Care into Palliative Medicine: A Personal Perspective
Tuesday September 25th 2018, 6:23 pm
Filed under: hospitals,palliative care,pastoral care,patient advocacy,Uncategorized

By Tracy Balboni

In 2006, the same year I was completing my training in radiation oncology and embarking on a career of caring for patients with incurable cancers, I first read this quote from Dr.DanielSulmasy in The Rebirth of the Clinic: An Introduction to Spirituality in Health Care:

“Illness is a spiritual event.  It grasps persons by the soul as well as by the body and disturbs both. Illness ineluctably raises troubling questions of a transcendent nature-questions about meaning, value, and relationship. These questions are spiritual.”

At that particular time in 2006, Sulmasy’s words contrasted starkly with my experience as a trainee in scientific medicine. Medicine was largely blind to the reality that illness is a “spiritual event”. And yet, I knew viscerally in my nascent experience as a physician that Sulmasy’s words were correct.  In the clash between my training and the truth expressed so poignantly by Sulmasy, I discerned a calling to translate this reality into words that medicine could hear and understand — the language of empirical research.

And so I embarked upon an academic career dedicated to translating the spiritual realities of patients into the language of numbers and the format of scientific manuscripts. I also had my own questions to pose and answer. Do patients want for their physicians and other members of the medical team to recognize and attend to the spiritual aspects of their illness experience? If we do embrace the spiritual aspects of illness, how does this influence patients’ well-being and medical care decisions?

With the above questions in mind, I embarked on research within the Coping with Cancer studyunder the mentorship of Holly Prigerson, PhD, the study’s principal investigator, whose vision and creativity have been transformative to the understanding of psychosocial and spiritual factors in end-of-life care. The study involved interviews and observations of 343 patients with advanced, incurable cancers and their family caregivers.

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