Med Student Explores the Connection Between Physical Healing and Spirituality
by Quincy Banks
Students of Public Health: Voices & Profiles focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health.
STUDENT VOICES — Medical school has progressed nicely, but there came a time to do research, and I had no idea as to what my research project should be. Nothing seemed to catch or keep my attention. I reflected on the assumed needs of patients, my interests, and life experiences. Still, nothing. After further reflection, one conversation in particular stuck with me. In 2012, I was diagnosed with a heart anomaly. Days before the surgery, I embarked upon the most difficult conversation I had ever had with my mother. The conversation started abruptly and ended the same. “Mom, if I don’t wake up by the 23rd, let me go.” She stared into my eyes with heart break. I stared back and said, “That’s what I want.” We bowed our heads in silence, and nothing more was needed. On June 19th, 2012, I underwent open heart surgery and woke up that same night. As I expected, my family was there to welcome me, but what if…? The impact of what if, I decided, would be my focus.
Medicine and science have come a long way but still have a ways to go in addressing the more sensitive needs of patients. Some studies suggest that patients worry more about the needs of their families versus their own. Mental stress negatively impacts the body’s physical well-being. Mental stress can cause the breakdown of one person, a family unit, and all in between. So where do we go for mental healing, or should mental therapy even be a part of physical healing? Does spirituality or religion play a part in physical healing? Is there a clear connection between the spiritual and physical being?
My research project’s main goal is to raise awareness of the correlation between health, decision making, and religiosity by highlighting the important role that religion plays in a patient’s life. Although a patient may not address the subject directly, it is paramount that physicians address those needs when planning a patient’s health care. However, the premise could apply to all people with chronic diseases. The task of caring for a child with a chronic disease is often delegated to under-trained and under-prepared parents. These parents report increased feelings of depression, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, anxiety, incompetence, and decreased family function. Taking all of this into account, why would a parent be solely responsible for that child’s wellbeing? Why can’t the stress of the parent be a part of the overall treatment plan of that child? The health care team is at the forefront of engaging parents and helping them to make medical decisions, but who helps them to make mentally focused decisions? Other care providers including pastoral care, counselors, ethicists, and chaplains may be available but are rarely used as a vital part of the healing process. Patients and their families often express spiritual needs that are inadequately addressed by the health care team. So where do they turn? Most often, those concerns are never addressed and cause underlying problems of their own. If mind, body, and soul are truly interconnected, they should all be a part of the treatment plan. Whether it is religion or spiritually, our mental state has the ability to worsen or improve our health.
I know first-hand the importance of religiosity while dealing with a chronic disease. Had it not been for my already established spirituality, things would have been impossible. The closer I grew toward my spiritual self, the more I lived life on life’s terms. I relinquished those things that I could not control and focused on those that I could control. I can control my dreams but not my health history. Although my dreams and health history are ironic, the two together will provide me with the unique combination of having the perspective of a patient and the training as a medical professional. I will continue to improve myself, allowing me to directly impact what I can deliver to others.
My advice to public health students is to improve yourself and Go For It! You never know what good can come out of any situation. Challenges become opportunities when you look through optimistic lenses. All testimonies are birthed through tests and all tests are graded on a curve. Curves are slight deviations in the norm and is never the end. Never the end! Just end each day with optimism, the desire to do better, reach more, and draw your circle wide enough to include those that would not have had it not been for you. You have the ability to change lives, people, and perspectives. When you turn devastation into dreams, your life is but a research project.
Quincy Banks is a second-year medical student at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Although he has lived in several states, he considers LaVergne, Tennessee, his hometown. He graduated from the University of Tennessee, where he studied biochemistry, cellular- and molecular-biology. His dream is to become a Pediatric Cardiologist with a specialty in Congenital Heart Defects.