Spirituality in medical education: An Australian elective example

Kellie Bennett, Douglas Bridge, Julie Shepherd

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Medical educators recognise that spirituality is an essential component of a patient’s health and wellbeing. Recently, there has been a marked worldwide increase in teaching spirituality to medical students as a way of addressing the need for doctors to be more sensitive to spiritual issues and alleviating doctors’ discomfort and lack of confidence in dealing with this area. At the University of Western Australia, aspects of spirituality, including spiritual history taking and an introduction to the links between spirituality and healing within a biopsychosocial-spiritual framework, are introduced into the core medical curriculum at an early stage. A unit entitled Spirituality, Suffering and Healing, which includes participation in ward rounds, multidisciplinary teamwork and case conferences, has been developed to further advance the integration of spirituality into medical teaching and is conducted as an elective program for students in their fifth year of medical training. The unit includes a range of educational experiences, including conversations with patients facing death, group discussions of three DVDs, set journal articles and keeping a reflective diary. Each year, students within the unit are placed with the Palliative Care Service at Royal Perth Hospital for a two-week period where they are introduced to a patient who has agreed to speak to students about their spiritual beliefs, particularly in relation to the patient’s experience with illness. The unit has attracted small groups of highly enthusiastic participants who report high satisfaction, increased knowledge and skills and greater connectedness to patients. Increased connection between patients and students, with a focus on spiritual issues, has the potential to produce future doctors who are skilled communicators in this challenging area.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalFocus on Health Professional Education: a Multi-Disciplinary Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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