Why Doctors Should Care About Their Patients’ Spirituality

Whenever he meets with a new patient, Harvey Chochinov likes to ask one important question: “What should I know about you as a person to help me take the best care of you that I can?”

It’s a question every doctor should ask, says Chochinov, author of “Dignity Therapy” and Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit; a question he has found helps patient and doctor alike dial in to their innate spirituality, and in so doing, promote better health.

Even if spirituality is a word the patient is not accustomed to using or a subject the physician is averse to addressing, it doesn’t make it any less relevant. Defined by the American Academy of Family Physicians as “the way you find meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in your life,” spirituality is something that concerns all of us, and cannot be – must not be – easily dismissed.

The good news is that, increasingly, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are beginning to recognize the unique role they have to play in addressing the complexities of their patients’ lives, their fears, even their capacity to maintain a sense of connection with the divine during times of crisis. Although tending to such spiritual needs has long been considered the exclusive domain of chaplains