Hoya Paxa

Improving Healthcare, Saving Lives

As the Interfaith Youth Core says, “Being an interfaith leader doesn’t end with graduation.” While preparing to enter medical school in August, I have often wondered how to continue my passion for interfaith while working in healthcare. Fortunately, with support from the IFYC Alumni Professional Development Fund and Georgetown University’s Campus Ministry, I was able to attend the Annual Conference on Medicine and Religion last weekend in Chicago. This gathering has shown me the immense potential for interfaith cooperation in the medical field. Upon arriving at the opening sessions, I was immediately struck by the diversity of professions represented. I had assumed that only physicians (and only those in specific specialties such as psychiatry) would attend; instead, I met statisticians, epidemiologists, theologians, lawyers, ethicists, historians, physicians of many specialties, and even other students who shared my interests. One of my favorite sessions compared the perspectives of the Jewish physician Moses Maimonides and the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas on bioethics. Even though these figures lived nearly 800 years ago, many of their writings are relevant to modern discourse on issues such as abortion and contraception. I hope that the next conference expands to include a discussion of medieval Islamic physicians such as Rhazes and Avicenna!

At another presentation, I realized that hospitals and medical schools, like undergraduate colleges, are environments of profound religious diversity. A 2005 survey on American physicians’ religious attitudes showed that certain religions are significantly more represented in the healthcare field in comparison to the overall US population. For example, about 2 percent of the US population is Jewish, but nearly 1 in 7 physicians is Jewish. In addition, only 0.4 percent of Americans are Hindus, but over 5 percent of doctors are Hindu. Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, and Mormons are similarly over-represented. Since this study is nearly ten years old, it is likely that this religious diversity has only increased. This means that physicians from various traditions are constantly working together, and with patients who may not share their beliefs. Since religion is an important part of life for many Americans, health professionals should engage with this diversity rather than ignore it.

Indeed, the medical field is especially conducive to interfaith engagement because the concepts of service and human dignity are always implicit. The interreligious dialogues at this gathering never lapsed into either watered-down beliefs or theological minutiae; rather, every conversation, panel, and presentation was geared towards improving healthcare and saving lives.

In the future, I look forward to working with others in various professions who share my passions for medicine and interfaith cooperation. I strive to live out one of my favorite verses from the Qur'an, an interfaith call to action in healthcare: “[Allah] decreed upon the Children of Israel [and the Muslims] that whoever… saves one [life] - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” (5:32).

 
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