Mark Fowler Speaks on the Realities of Religion and Health Care

Last Friday our own Mark Fowler gave the opening address at the Forum on the Intersection of Faith and Health, organized and sponsored by the New York State Department of Health, Columbia University School of Public Health, New York Theological Seminary, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

As the title of the forum indicates, the goal of the conference was to explore the intersections of faith and health. Mark kicked off the day with his opening address, and highlighted the central theme of the conference, namely that religion is a salient identity for many people and guides how they make health care decisions, view the concept of health and wellness, and process and cope with illness. Partnership and collaboration between faith communities and health care professionals is essential in order to effectively address what is a central identity for many patients.

Over the course of the day, a variety of discussions and presentations covered a number of questions. How can we best educate health care professionals (those in training and those already practicing) on the importance of religion in a health care setting? In the same vein, how can we integrate curriculum on public health issues into seminary programs? Lastly, how can faith and health leaders best collaborate to effectively harness the power of faith in promoting wellness and health education in communities that are often marginalized or disadvantaged? A wealth of information was presented over the course of the day to address some of these questions, coming from experts from a range of professional and religious backgrounds.

The responses and discussions were too numerous and rich to summarize but here are a few highlights. Dr. Gary Butts, Associate Dean for Diversity at Mount Sinai Hospital emphasized that it essential for those who have influence over curricular change to use it to integrate cultural competency into the heart and soul of medical curriculum. Currently, cultural competency training is too often an afterthought in the training of health care professionals.

Dr. Ernest Patti, Director of Emergency Medicine at St. Barnabas Hospital spoke to the question of effective collaboration between hospitals and faith communities. He stated that one reason that partnerships with faith communities are essential is that doctors cannot see their work as isolated to the four walls of the hospital. To promote better health and better understand their patients, it is essential that they go out into the community around them.

At the end of one of the panel discussions, a student in the audience posed an interesting question: How can we educate health care professionals not to be judgmental? Dr. Fullilove’s response (Associate Dean for Community and Minority Affairs at Columbia University) echoed one of Tanenbaum’s Rules of Respect – to make a commitment to ongoing learning. He explained that his father, who was a physician, always told him “I learned more medicine from my errors than I did from lectures.” I think Dr. Fullilove’s statement summed up the central message of the conference well. If we can learn from our misjudgments and strive to remain open to new ideas and different perspectives, we will continue to grow in our ability to effectively care for patients.

In the coming weeks, Mark will be traveling to both Albany and Rochester, NY to present at an addition two forums taking place there. We are very excited to be a part of this endeavor and look forward to doing our part in making a commitment to ongoing learning.

Lynn Stoller
Program Associate, Health Care