In a recent panel discussion at my medical school, the issue of how religion and spirituality affect the way a physician provides care came up. The general consensus of the panelists was that the physicians should work hard at compartmentalizing their beliefs in order to provide unbiased care to their patients. This conclusion is alarming because of the far-reaching implications this approach could have on patient care.
Compartmentalization is defined as: to separate into distinct parts, categories, or compartments. When patients come to see a doctor, they bring their entire person: their illness, their beliefs, their spirituality, and their past experiences that have formed and shaped them, just to name a few. We are taught that, in order to care for the patient to the best of our ability, we must treat the person as whole, not just as a disease or symptom. Even when asking questions to get to the bottom of their illness, the inquisitions often go beyond the physical and delve into the psychological, emotional, and even spiritual. This sets the stage for trust, a sort of bond between the physician and the patient.
In order for this trust to be truly established, the patient must believe that they are getting everything from the physician as a whole person in return. They want more than our medical knowledge—they want our compassion, our opinions, our charity. The influences that form these things include our religion and our spiritual life. Therefore we should not, even cannot, withhold or compartmentalize these things in order to provide our patient with the care they deserve.
As Catholics, we are called to love our brothers and sisters on earth in a Christ-like manner. Let us not compartmentalize—no, let us do the opposite. Let Christ’s love permeate our hearts in such a way that we have no choice but to bring Him in with us to see our patients. We may not be asked to always verbally share our faith explicitly, but we are, without exception, called to live it by the way we act. That is something that we should never compartmentalize, but make part of everything we do, both for the patient and for the glory of God. “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary” –St. Francis of Assisi