When Jesse Schmidt (Psychology ’21, MIB ’22) enrolled in a fall 2019 course on spirituality and health care, she had no idea how powerful the connection between the two could be.
She would soon find out firsthand. Schmidt has worked for a “telephone friends” service, speaking with people across the country struggling with debilitating illnesses that keep them largely isolated. In conversations with a patient struggling with ALS, Schmidt brought to bear the skills she learned during the course as the patient faced her own mortality. “We talked about her pains and her existential questions — she wondered, in her opinion, why God was punishing her,” Schmidt said. “His spiritual beliefs contextualized his understanding of his ALS diagnosis.” Schmidt supported her through these interviews for a year, until the patient’s death.
Now, as a medical school candidate, Schmidt remains invested in practicing the same compassionate care in her future work as a doctor. “I learned that spirituality isn’t just an abstract concept, it’s an innate aspect of being human,” she said. “It’s a huge component of our well-being that is largely overlooked.”
The shift in Schmidt’s mindset is exactly what the speaker Erin Prophet hope to see.
Prophet pushes the boundaries of how students perceive the intersection between spirituality and Western medicine – broadening their horizons by exposing them to approaches that blend the two fields. His Spirituality and Healthcare course is a popular choice among pre-health majors, who approach the subject with curiosity.
“Students are bombarded daily with messages about religion, spirituality and mindfulness, but they often lack context,” Prophet said. “Religion can be a source of strength, but it can also lead to crises and struggles. Students should develop a critical eye for claims about both religion and spirituality.
I learned that spirituality is not just an abstract concept, it is an innate aspect of being human. It’s a huge component of our well-being that is largely overlooked.
—Jesse Schmidt, Psychology ’21, MIB ’22
A more amorphous concept than religion, spirituality encompasses a broad sense of purpose or connection to something greater than oneself. While spirituality comes through religion for many, others find it through meditation, prayer, music, art, or harmony with nature.
The link between spirituality and health has long been overlooked in Western education – but a growing body of research shows that our physical, mental and spiritual well-being work in tandem. “The mind affects the body and the body affects the mind,” the Prophet said. “So medicine cannot be blind to someone’s spiritual needs – or spiritual crisis, for that matter.”
As the healthcare industry in the United States focuses more on improving the quality of care, it is important that providers communicate clearly and understand patient needs. Health care providers limit their own success by ignoring patients’ beliefs. When spirituality is nurtured, patients can better understand their condition, gain motivation in the recovery process, and be accepted in the face of chronic or terminal illness.
The Prophet is encouraged that many institutions are developing programs that expose students to the human side of medicine: A 2021 study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University found 119 undergraduate programs in medicine or science. health humanities underway across the country, and others are currently being developed. At UF, the Prophet’s Course is just one of a growing variety offered on campus offering a humanistic approach to medicine.
“It has become more widely recognized that it is useful for undergraduate pre-health students to have some exposure to the literary, artistic, philosophical, historical and religious aspects of medicine – before embarking on this training medical, where they often do ‘I don’t have the leisure to explore those topics,’ she said.
Prophet offers a wealth of first-hand experience to draw upon – she has lived and navigated between these realms all her life. Prophet grew up in the inner sanctum of a controversial New Age religious sect called the Church Universal and Triumphant, often referred to as a “cult” in the media. As the daughter of its founder Elizabeth Clare Prophet, she was exposed to many alternative spiritual viewpoints at a young age – her mother incorporated elements of Buddhism, Christianity and mysticism into her teachings.
Prophet eventually walked away from the cult, but she dedicated her career to unpacking religious experiences and narratives. As a scholar of religion, she also explores the relationship between medicine and spirituality. Prophet doesn’t just talk – before earning a doctorate in religion, Prophet earned a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in epidemiology and published in the field of cancer epidemiology.
Today, Prophet explores the historical relationships between the Western biomedical model of health care and cross-cultural aspects of alternative and holistic forms of medicine in his course. She also explores different models of healthcare decision-making, from evidence-based medicine to integrative and functional medicine. Prophet invites speakers from the local community to share a range of perspectives – acupuncturists, Chinese medicine experts and Christian scientists have all graced his class. Group discussions and film viewings also help students examine topics through a critical lens.
For pre-health students who have completed Prophet’s course, expertise offers a chance to stand out in a sea of competitive applicants seeking admission to medical school.
Christina Rozvodovsky Discovered a budding appreciation for holistic healthcare through Prophet’s course. The idea that a patient is not just a “fixing machine” resonated with the sophomore, a double major in biology and neuroscience with a minor in religion.
The course may even have changed his entire career trajectory – Rozvodovskiy now plans to study osteopathic medicine instead of pursuing an MD. Osteopathic physicians receive the same training as physicians, but complement it with a holistic approach to healing. “It would allow me to learn more about alternative medicine, such as herbs and daily practices, that can complement biomedical interventions,” she said.
It is not presented with an expectation that I give them eternal religious truths that will be applicable in all situations. I try to give them enough understanding so that they can navigate the different cultures they may encounter during their career.
Erin Prophet, lecturer in the Department of Religion
No matter where her students go beyond graduation, Prophet empowers them to interact sensitively with those who have different opinions and beliefs – she hopes it will just give them the edge they have. needed in an increasingly global labor market.
“It is not presented with the expectation that I am giving them eternal religious truths that will be applicable in all situations,” Prophet said. “I try to give them enough understanding so that they can navigate the different cultures they may encounter in their careers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the promotion of these values. “I think it’s important for aspiring health practitioners to be aware of the signs of spiritual struggle – especially at a time like this, during the pandemic, when so many are coping with loss, grief and mourn in a way they didn’t have to. at this level before,” the Prophet said.
Norwegian exchange student Mathias Maxime Thoze believes the pandemic has opened the door to increased awareness of the role of spiritual health in medicine. “One of the big things that you as a provider could give people during the pandemic is the social and belonging part of the healing process, and I think that’s what a lot of people felt they had. lost during those times,” he said.
Thoze took the lessons he learned back home to Norway. As a physical and mental health activist, Thoze was inspired to share aspects of spiritual health on his social media platforms. He was surprised by the high level of commitment in a largely secular nation. After graduation, Thoze plans to establish a therapeutic institute in Norway to provide medical, mental and spiritual support to patients.
Former student Matthew Thompson (Religion ’19) draws daily on what he learned in the Prophet’s class. A large part of her role as a case manager at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare is to develop ongoing care plans for recovering patients.
“As a provider who encounters patients who are often in crisis – having recently attempted suicide, had a drug overdose, or are mentally ill and their current view of their life is disoriented and clouded – having the education necessary to offering therapeutic encounters with patients has made all the difference,” Thompson said.
The course inspired Thompson to develop a more personalized approach in communicating with patients and their families. He actively works to integrate patients’ belief systems to orchestrate lifestyle change and promote healing. When healing isn’t possible, Thompson can also support those who are dying or bereaved by initiating difficult discussions from an informed and sensitive perspective.
Currently pursuing his master’s degree in social work at Florida State University, Thompson is confident he will continue to build on the lessons learned in Prophet’s course as a future clinical social worker. True healing and wellness, he said, comes from seeing the patient as a whole, rather than just the disease.
“I try to continue to embody these practices with my clients,” he said, “so that they experience a warm therapeutic encounter unlike the many unfortunately sterile and cold contacts they have had with so many others. health care providers seeking to extract information and provide treatment.
Thompson’s holistic approach as a compassionate care delivery pathway goes to the heart of Prophet’s purpose. It is a reminder that in the process of recovery, science and spirituality can work together.