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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-3

Torchbearers of humanism and spiritualism to foster the healing encounter in 21 st century medicine

Department of Neurology, Yenepoya Medical College, Mangalore, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication13-Apr-2015

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Bhaskara P Shelley
Department of Neurology, Yenepoya Medical College, Mangalore - 575 018, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2321-4848.154916

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How to cite this article:
Shelley BP. Torchbearers of humanism and spiritualism to foster the healing encounter in 21 st century medicine. Arch Med Health Sci 2015;3:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Shelley BP. Torchbearers of humanism and spiritualism to foster the healing encounter in 21 st century medicine. Arch Med Health Sci [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Mar 30];3:1-3. Available from: https://www.amhsjournal.org/text.asp?2015/3/1/1/154916

"Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity". - Hippocrates
"A humanist is someone who does the right thing even though she knows that no one is watching." -
Dick McMahan

The Olympic flame is an inspirational symbol of the Olympic games where a fire is kept burning throughout the celebration dating back to Olympia, in ancient Greece. The "Olympic flame" portrays a humanistic conviction for purity, positive values, dedication, a sacred truce, and a strive for perfection in the spirit for sportsmanship. Like the Olympic torchbearers, we in this hi-tech modern 21 st century medical profession should inevitably be torchbearers for "lighting the torch of humanism and spiritual well-being". This will usher in a renaissance for global and national awakenings to reignite the "healing flame" relentlessly burning as did our predecessors such as Sir William Osler, Hippocrates, Florence Nightingale, Samuel Hahnemann, Acharya Charaka, Sushruta, Aaron Antonovsky and many others.

The Rod of Asclepius has both science and humanism intertwined in a more complex relationship, furthermore as a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity that also associates healing and medicine. In this century of modern science and medicine, there has been evidence of stresses and strains within and around medicine and healthcare. Trillion dollar hi-tech dehumanized, 21 st century modern, organ and specialty-driven medicine has become devoid of "whole patient-centered care", with technocrat physicians who unfortunately has made medicine reductionistic that sadly does not foster a healing encounter with positive healing outcomes. The technical and economic aspects of health care, although has reaped wonders, I concede that physicians today do spend less time talking, listening, and allaying fears of patients' illnesses, and their anxieties. From my perspective, I am regretfully forced to acknowledge that the evolution of medicine from its roots to the 21 st century has unfortunately sacrificed humanity in the process of patient care.

Thus I would advocate that the cultivation of medical humanism and spiritualism should compulsorily assume a greater significance in our 21 st century medicine in order to promote physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being, sense of coherence, meaningfulness of life, empowerment, resource activation, change and symptom control for ultimate salutogenic healing.

My conviction is that both humanism and spiritualism needs to be researched and taught to medical students. We need to research on models for a healing environment, and I envision such torchbearers to certainly be able to create a neo-hippocratian movement to reboot and reignite the flame of humanism and spiritualism rather than mere physical treatment.

Medical humanism, humanistic medicine or an erudite term "values-based medicine" underlines relationships with patients that are compassionate and empathetic including scientific and evidence-based medicine. [1] It also integrates human dignity, attitudes and behaviors that are sensitive to the values, autonomy, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds of others. The traditional medical school formula teaches students in classrooms by segregating disciplines, fragmentation of knowledge without horizontal or vertical integration or clinical orientation, with no structured discourse in humanism and spiritualism taught during the preclinical or medical curriculum, and then is catapulted into an exhausting clinical rotation in teaching hospitals. Too often, patients become cases, not people, a collection of symptoms rather than human beings with real stories and real feelings. Prospective physicians should unanimously acknowledge the overwhelming value of a marriage between humanism and spiritualism for its healing outcomes rather than be obedient servants to technology driven medicine.

Being a neurologist with firm footings in neurobiologic and neural substrate-based human behaviorism, I reiterate that both humanism and spiritual well-being evokes functional salutogenic mechanisms on the brain that underlines Aaron Antonovsky's salutogenic healing outcomes and well-being. Aaron Antonovsky, an American-Israeli medical sociologist, in 1979, introduced the salutogenic framework to the scientific world. Salutogenesis is the opposite of pathogenesis. The salutogenic model focuses on the causes of global well-being, how health is created and maintained, rather than the etiology of specific disease processes (pathogenesis model). Salutogenesis is now known to be controlled by the human genes (T-bet, GATA-3, and Foxp3) which could explain the often dramatic placebo associated improvements in clinical holistic medicine and complementary and alternative medicine.

Since there is an empathy gap in our modern medicine curriculum today, we need to make insightful and critical reforms to inject humanism and spiritualism from day 1 of first year medical course. It is vital to realize that we are in this profession to provide comfort, compassion, empathy, communication and listening to patients' so as to impart positive healing outcomes. There exists a kaleidoscope of healing concepts throughout the world, and I believe that the biopsychosocial model, humanistic model or perhaps the integrated model of complementary, alternative and conventional modern health care will be able to provide "holistic healing." In 2015, a study from University of California, Berkeley published in the journal 'Emotion' documented that such integrative medicine to be associated with 'healing' in immunologic profiles (CD T cell markers, NK cells, oxidative stress markers, pro-inflammatory cytokines) and promotion of wholistic wellbeing (QoL measures). These healing avenues and biochemical markers of psychospiritual status are fertile grounds for research for our future torchbearers of the " healing flame" for tomorrow's medicine.

Human beings (brains) appear to be the only species that has access to a spiritual dimension in addition to human communication through a systematic language. Thus, our profession should not declare "bankruptcy" in these domains, instead awaken, empower and harness the brain for its positive healing outcomes and medical humanist communication skills. Over the last two decades, there has been an exponential rise of scientific evidence supporting the role of spirituality in the whole person patient care that has prompted paradigm shifts to a biopsychosocial-spiritual model for health. [2],[3] Defining spirituality has been and is still a challenge for the medical profession. Spirituality or spiritual well-being is a complex multidimensional concept described as '' the way in which people understand and live their lives in view of their ultimate meaning and value" and, in essence, an experience or attitude that transcends any particular religion. Various spirituality questionnaires have been used in health research and healing outcomes, the most promising being the Spiritual Well-Being Questionnaire (SWBQ) and Faith Score (FS). [4] Furthermore, the Maslow's triangle, The 3H and BMSEST models are innovative theoretical frameworks for understanding the role of spirituality in the whole person care and the art of compassionate medicine. [5]

We should reunite the body-mind Cartesian duality and open the border between the traditional mind-brain and body duality. By rebooting humanism and spiritualism (not as portrayed by the traditional walls of an organized religion) we could attain positive healing outcomes by tapping the functional salutogenic mechanisms of the brain; referred to as " the healing brain" and that will empower salutogenic lives of our patients. The brain has processes such as functional salutogenic mechanisms and neuroplasticity that could potentially contribute to health and positive healing outcomes. Research in psychoneuroimmunology and the neuroendocrine immune neuropathways of functional salutogenic mechanisms are ongoing which I would see as 'a glass half full' that could provide new strategies for improving health worldwide. [6] Without any skepticism, I envision that by reigniting the flame of humanism and spiritual well-being in 21 st century medicine, and we as medical professionals to unlearn and re-learn to be a "humanist spiritualist", there would be a paradigm shift in our "healing orientation" from a "physician-technocrat" axis to a "physician-healer" perspective. [7],[8]

  Conclusion Top

Humanism and spiritual well-being that enshrines the "art of compassionate medicine" is unfortunately neglected areas in medical schools and modern medicine today. As a humanist physician, I would call for a reawakening for the convergence of humanism, spiritualism, healing and medicine for a " multicultural whole person medicine". Similar to a birth-pang, I believe that passing the torch of "humanism" and "spiritualism" to the medical curriculum and education, and practice of patient care is quintessential. Lastly, I would reiterate that there should be a critical rethinking in humanism and spiritualism models within the traditional structure of medical schools, healthcare services as well as the healthcare organization. This would certainly illuminate a future trajectory to "humanist spiritualism" that would empower physicians to be torch bearers for optimal treatment of the "whole person" to produce positive "healing outcomes." This would be a promising stepping stone to bring professionalism, humanism, spiritual well-being, compassion and altruism back into the art, science and soul of our profession. I stress that the relay by such torchbearers would not only be a movement toward newer paradigms in clinical care and research but one of the trends that would shape the future of technomedicine.

I solemnly quote a Boston health care attorney who died in his early 40s of advanced lung cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital, Kenneth B. Schwartz: "In my new role as patient, I have learned that medicine is not merely about performing tests or surgeries, or administering drugs. These functions, as important as they are, are just the beginning. For as skilled and knowledgeable as my caregivers are, what matters most is that they have empathized with me in a way that gives me hope and makes me feel like a human being, not just an illness". "These acts of kindness - the simple human touch from my caregivers - have made the unbearable bearable." I reiterate his words "a human being, not just an illness." This forms the crux of a holistic healing encounter. The secret of the care of the patient is caring for the patient.

As an editorialist, these few pages maybe motivational, inspirational and/or educational for the readers, but it is my calling for an insightful, courageous conviction for a transformational process of "humanist spiritualism" and "whole person medicine" for the human diaspora in this planet. I passionately believe that the current medical schools and tomorrow's physicians in a proverbial sense need to move from the "head to the heart" that will certainly recourse the "healing encounter" to its Oslerian and Hippocratic roots!
"The Future is today" - Sir William Osler

  References Top

Lewis D. Humanism and the art of medicine. Momentum 2012;1:1-11.  Back to cited text no. 1
Levin J. Spiritual determinants of health and healing: An epidemiologic perspective on salutogenic mechanisms. Altern Ther Health Med 2003;9:48-57.  Back to cited text no. 2
Davidson RJ. Spirituality and medicine: science and practice. Ann Fam Med 2008;6:388-9.  Back to cited text no. 3
Gomez R, Fisher JW. Domains of spiritual well-being and development and validation of the spiritual well-being questionnaire. Pers Individ Dif 2003;35:1975-91.  Back to cited text no. 4
Anandarajah G. The 3 H and BMSEST models for spirituality in multicultural whole-person medicine. Ann Fam Med 2008;6:448-58.  Back to cited text no. 5
Smith DF. Functional salutogenic mechanisms of the brain. Perspect Biol Med 2002;45:319-28.  Back to cited text no. 6
Neely D, Minford EJ. Current status of teaching on spirituality in UK medical schools. Med Educ 2008;42:176-82.  Back to cited text no. 7
Chattopadhyay S. Religion, spirituality, health and medicine: Why should Indian physicians care? J Postgrad Med 2007;53:262-6.  Back to cited text no. 8
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