How spirituality can benefit medicine

March 30, 2022 – Bringing spirituality into medicine can benefit both patients and doctors, according to experts.

A March 21, 2022 Medscape article cited a number of studies showing the positive impacts that spirituality can have. For example, one study found that medical students who say they actively participate in their religion may be less likely to experience burnout. Another study found that patients’ religious involvement and spirituality are linked with better health outcomes such as greater longevity, better quality of life (even during terminal illness), and less anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted that health, religion, and spirituality are all part of being human. “But over time, the way that people have been cared for has been broken up in such a fragmented way that currently most clinicians just overlook dimensions of spirituality when caring for patients, or when considering what health really means, or even when considering their own health,” said Koh, who is on the faculty executive committee of Harvard’s Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality. He defined spirituality as something that encompasses “ultimate meaning, purpose, or transcendence … in relationship with the significant or sacred.”

Koh thinks that people will start to pay more attention to the intersection of health, spirituality, and religion in the future, partly because the pandemic led people to think about existential questions. “During the time of COVID, issues of meaning and purpose are really front and center for a lot of people and these are really important themes,” he said.

Read the Medscape article: Spirituality and Medicine: A Surprising Pairing

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Regularly attending religious services associated with lower risk of deaths of despair (Harvard Chan School news)

Religious upbringing linked to better health and well-being during early adulthood (Harvard Chan School news)