Integrating medicine and ministry

A priest, a rabbi and Muslim were all practicing medicine one day…. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. The American Medical News describes how an Episcopal priest, a rabbinical student and the president of a mosque integrate their faith, their ministries and their medical practices.

Spirituality and medicine frequently meet, often in unexpected places. Medicine puts us in touch with the limits and possibilities of our mortality, and how we make sense of life puts us in touch with our deepest spiritual longings. Many physicians are also in some way religious or spiritual, and anecdotal evidence suggests that this helps them in their care of patients.

Some take the next step and bring together their practice of medicine with ordained or lay ministry with intriguing results. Here are three stories:

Priest and surgeon:

Daniel Hall, MD, MDiv, MHSc, finished residency this year and is an assistant surgery professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

He is also ordained in the Episcopal faith and is a priest in residence at First Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh. The Episcopal and Lutheran churches recognize each other’s ordained clergy. He preaches every fifth Sunday, and on other Sundays he reads Scriptures or leads prayers. He also is involved in adult education there.

Dr. Hall sees his pastoral and theological training as assets and wants to integrate them into his medical practice. He is conscious of the ethical issues raised by offering to pray with patients or to discuss their spiritual beliefs. But his goal is to help patients come to terms with serious illness, not to convert them.

“There are appropriate concerns,” Dr. Hall said. “With the unequal power in a patient-physician relationship, it could be a coercive situation.”

Rabbi and medical student:

Eleanor Smith finished five years of rabbinical training and was a rabbi for seven years before becoming a student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. On schedule to graduate this spring, she is going through the matching process for an internal medicine position and then hopes to specialize in oncology. Ideally, she would like to split her time between the synagogue and academic medicine.

“My experience in the rabbinate prompted me to go to medical school,” Smith said. “I see it as an enhancement of my rabbinate.”

While working as a rabbi, Smith said she had “crazy thoughts about going back to school. I had an increasing conviction that what clergy do and what doctors do are intimately related, though their body of knowledge is so disparate.”

Mosque president and pediatrician:

Hafizur Rehman, MD, studied medicine in Pakistan, did a residency back home in Kenya, then did a pediatric residency in the United States before opening a practice in Bay Shore, N.Y. He also is a senior pediatric attending physician at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center and Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, and an active leader in the Muslim community. Dr. Rehman is president-elect of the Islamic Medical Assn. of North America, president of the Council of Mosques and Islamic Organizations of Nassau and Suffolk counties and president of the Masjid Darul Quran in Bay Shore, the largest Muslim congregation on Long Island with 1,000 members.

As a pediatrician he appreciates the Koran’s references to a child’s birth and conception.

“The Koran goes into quite a bit of embryology,” Dr. Rehman said. “It talks of that in spiritual depth — God’s way of continuing life and the existence of humanity. How a single sperm and egg grows into a fertile piece of flesh. How the bones are covered with muscle. As a pediatrician, that is fulfilling to me.”

Read: American Medical News: Body and soul: When faith guides a doctor’s vocation.

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