Medicine has always seemed to me like the place a critical place for a happy marriage between Religion and Science. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way. We physicians are caught in the middle of a cultural tug’o’war. Generally we like, even love biology, and therefore become very schooled in Evolution and its atheist (think Dawkins) arm.
On the other hand we generally go into the profession because we have a genuine desire to help others in a deep and meaningful way. Medical school applicants are genuinely nice people. The express sentimentality and altruism to the point there becomes a sad, cynical backlash against such an expression in Medical School Application essays. People can only read so many people express a desire to save mankind before they tune out.
This sets up a situation where Doctors are subtly , or not so subtly, encouraged to disparage religion. This can lead to a toxic medical school environment. There is clearly a gap between the religiosity of the average patient and the average Doctor as a result. I think this harms our ability to connect with patients in important ways.
Healing has an important spiritual component that does not lend itself to science, analysis and facts. The word Physician come from the Greek word physik, or science, the word Doctor comes from a word meaning healer, the word Practitioner indicates learning, education, being a student and a teacher. So in my mind any worthy Doctor becomes a healer, a teacher, and a scientist.
I had the good fortune of attending a Jesuit Medical School, Where spirituality and medicine were taken very seriously. I loved this about my education. I recommend it for any Latter-Day Saint, as there an LDS Medical school does not exist. Thank God for the Catholic Church. I skipped the whole BYU experience, but I think a regained the benefit of spirituality and education in medical school.
We had lectures on death and dying, which is not an area Science and Medicine is comfortable, but which I see as a vital part of my training. We even had lectures about the link between spirituality and health that went so far as to encourage us to delve into a patient’s spiritual issues in order to improve general health and well being, with scientific data backing up the argument. This is perhaps a bit further than perhaps either the patient or the doctor are willing to go, but it was very thought provoking.
Mormonism, with its traditional emphasis on science, education, and spirituality has given me tools to become much better doctor, physician and practitioner. I hold the great physician, the Saviour of mankind, up as my ideal. He knows the science as creator, he was the great teacher, and his ministry was all about healing, something I have experienced powerfully in my life.
I wonder though is there a way to fix the system? Can Science and religion ever call a truce. I don’t think our medical system will ever be up to snuff unless it does. Happily, I think there is something of a trend trying to fix things. I was happy to hear the latest Speaking of Faith, Dr. Rachel Remen spoke at length about these issues. I thought she was marvelous.