Sacred Sites of Houston is a student-led extracurricular, or blue book, elective that began in Spring 2016. The elective is comprised of sessions in which students learn from members of various religious communities about how physicians can address their patients’ religion and spirituality. Over the years, students have had the opportunity to visit congregations of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, the Society of Friends, and many more.
Medical students learn about intersections of faith, health as part of elective
Written by: Jonathan Garris
A group of McGovern Medical School students have been having spiritual experiences of a medical kind, learning about how various religious communities across Houston approach the intersection of faith and healthcare as part of an ongoing elective course sponsored by the John P. McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics.
Inside Jewish Family Services (4131 South Braeswood Blvd.) last Sunday, McGovern Medical Students had plenty of questions for Rabbi Steven Morgen from Congregation Beth Yeshurun. Their discussions focused on the nature of the Jewish faith and how doctors can address spirituality in a medical setting.
The elective, titled “The Sacred Sites of Houston: How Faith and Healing Intersect,” focuses on how various religions and faiths impact the health of their congregations. Medical students have the opportunity to meet with representatives from six different religions throughout the semester, including Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Baptist, Judaism and Baha’ism, asking questions not only about the religion itself but also how it might impact medical decisions.
The elective is coordinated by Nicholas King (MS2), Sam Joseph (MS3) and Lawrence Lin, a medical student and clinical research fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and is sponsored by Dr. Nathan Carlin, Dr. Thomas Cole, Stuart Nelson, and by the John P. McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, and the Institute for Spirituality and Health. Lin said he felt the humanities-focused course filled a void for medical students and their studies.
“I feel that religion and spirituality is a very large part of humanism,” Lin said.
Lin said the course offers a three-part benefit for students as it increases students’ knowledge of world religions in one of the most diverse cities in the nation, alters the students practices and challenges them to consider different approaches to care, and allows the students a chance for continuing growth from a humanities perspective.
The course requires students to visit five out of the six available sites, complete a pre- and post-elective survey and produce a short reflection piece at the end of the course. Visits are typically timed to coincide with a ritual or prayer, and members from within the congregation are invited to talk about how medicine and the concepts of well-being are described in religious texts and their modern application.
This last weekend students visited Jewish Family Services and spoke with CEO Linda Burger and Rabbi Steve Morgen of Congregation Beth Yeshurun. Morgen said the center has typically hosts a nurses group in spring, but having prospective doctors join them meant their focus turned on topics like how different Jewish sects approach medicine, healing, and how interpretations from the Torah might be different from patient to patient.
“I think it’s important for all of us to get to know each to other well,” Morgen said. “It helps us to be good citizens and dispel myths about one another. I’m glad to be part of the program.”
David Wideman, a second-year medical student, said he realized he didn’t know enough about other cultures and their principles and was glad to join the Sacred Sites elective not only for personal enrichment but also to broaden his understanding as a medical professional.
“My mother is very religious, so I know for her that a huge part of her life is her religion and when she is going through hardship it’s what helps her out,” Wideman said. “Knowing that if she sees a healthcare provider who understands her beliefs, or at least understands where she’s coming from and works to respect them, it would go a long way towards helping her.”
Would he recommend the course for other, fellow medical students?
“Absolutely,” Wideman said. “It has been fantastic.”
For more information about the elective, visit here: https://med.uth.edu/mcgovern/curriculum/bluebook-electives/sacred-sites/