MSN campus ministry offers new ‘Faith and Medicine’ small group

Goal to help pre-med, medical students and residents address issues from the Christian perspective

If felt led, should a physician offer to pray for a patient or his family? What role does one’s spiritual persuasion play in making end of life decisions? What if a couple’s religious beliefs conflict with best medical practice for themselves or, even more challenging, for their child? Is a physician in a position of power such that any reference to her religion is imposing on the family of her patient? How does a doctor deal with his own grief and empathy for poor outcomes in his patients?

These questions and many others are addressed in the Faith and Medicine small group held every other week, sponsored by the Methodist Student Network at the University of South Carolina.

Facilitated by a retired pediatric oncologist and a fourth-year medical student, Dr. Ron Neuberg and Jaya Ruffin, this small group aims to raise these questions and help pre-med undergraduates, medical students and residents address them from the Christian perspective.

Using the medical literature and the Bible as resources, discussions center on real scenarios raised by the facilitators or the attendees.

As Neuberg said, the goal is to sensitize the participants to others’ beliefs while discovering ways of meeting their own spiritual needs, preparing for the areas where beliefs conflict with scientific knowledge and answering the question in their practice, “What would Jesus do?”

Ruffin said Faith and Medicine provides a space for both pre-medical and medical students to talk about difficult situations, traumatic events, even happy experiences, and how we can use our faith to not only keep our resilience tank from going empty, but also to provide the best care to our future and current patients.

“The amount of information that is taught over the four years of medical school is extreme and unbelievably expansive: gross anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, neuroanatomy, pathology, pharmacology, the list goes on and on. What we are not taught, however, is how to deal with the spiritual and emotional areas of medicine,” Ruffin said. “After spending two years in a classroom, we are pushed out into the wards of the hospital and expected to take care of people who are facing quite possibly the absolute worst and hardest days of their lives.”

Ruffin said she remembers vividly the first time she experienced a child code and die in the ER: the image of his mother collapsing to the ground, screaming, will forever be etched into her memory.

“I was on overnight call that night and did not get a wink of sleep. I was up all night long thinking to myself, ‘How could God let this happen to this precious child? To this mother?’ I am sure if you asked any one of my classmates, they would be able to share similar experiences with you,” Ruffin said. “There comes a point where your resiliency tank starts to run empty. What then? Enter faith—something that we never talk about in class or during our rotations with our professors or our attendings.”

Neuberg offered some scenarios: A devoutly religious couple who refuses a blood transfusion for their two-year-old with severe anemia due to sickle cell disease. A young couple, who have been away from the church since childhood, who listen tearfully as a serious physician in hushed tones informs them their four-year-old has a brain tumor that most likely will result in the child’s death. In neonatal intensive care, a baby barely clings to life with multiple tubes and machines dwarfing his tiny body. Despite maximum doses of medicine dripping into her body, her tiny heart stops beating. In concert with the parents’ wishes, the baby’s physician reluctantly begins CPR despite knowing the overwhelming likelihood is that she will not survive. After resuscitation fails, the young doctor hurries to the call room and bursts into tears.

Neuberg said these and other scenarios are not uncommon in many practices of medicine.

“They are challenging intellectually but, for all involved, may be spiritually challenging as well,” Neuberg said. “Spiritual questions abound for physicians taking care of sick patients and their families. Is there value in taking a spiritual history? If so, how does one do it effectively and respectfully of the persons’ beliefs?”

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