Mind, Body, Spirit

“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” Herophilus of Chalcedon, physician to Alexander the Great

How will you be remembered? Working in a hospital every day puts that question to mind. I often wonder what one thinks of in the moments before they die, or if they even know they’re leaving this world. My years of practice have cemented the belief that there is an inextricable connection between the mind, body, and spirit. I felt this profound link before my career as a doctor even began, when a personal experience with a near-fatal illness showed me the power of the mind, body, spirit connection. That experience, while traumatic, was undoubtedly positive: It helped form my perspective on health care and my approach to patient care.

Sometimes patients will ask me to pray with them, and I do. And while I never impose my belief on patients, I often ask for spiritual guidance in taking care of them. In my patients, I see every day how belief in a higher power helps them through scary situations. It helps the patients feel like they are putting their trust not just in me, their surgeon, but a power that serves to guide them. In that sense, they feel a sense of divine intervention. And everyone else—including all of the health care providers—is around to guide them through this journey.

However, as health care providers, we have become disconnected from this profound mind, body, and spirit link. Instead of learning about illness and death from a patient’s perspective, we learn about diseases in medical training; we study the body as organs, then as complex systems, and finally as separate disciplines such as gastroenterology or cardiology. Our medical evaluations are influenced by our training, and our assessments tend to be mechanical, empiric, and paternal rather than empathetic, caring, and educational. This model of care is passed to subsequent generations of health care providers, and continues to endure today.

Yet patients experience illness in an entirely different way, and their perspective is drastically different from the provider’s. When patients are ill, not only is “one organ system” not functioning, their entire mind, body, and spirit is not functioning. This fact was illustrated well hundreds of years ago when Herophilus of Chalcedon, physician to Alexander the Great, observed: “When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.”

I believe health care providers should take an empathetic approach to healing, to understand a patient’s mind, body, and spirit connection, as well as a patient’s perspective on their health, illness, and strength. It is our duty to guide them and empower them to better health. It is this belief in a mind, body, spirit connection that guides me—and gives me strength—every day. And I hope it can give my patients strength, too.