There are multiple interesting ways where religion and medicine intersect. These range from the role of faith traditions in medical decision-making, theological medical ethics, randomized clinical trials of intercessory prayer, and the religious needs of healthcare providers and students. The case before us concerns accommodation and advocating for a Muslim medical student who seeks to observe his faith traditions including religious holidays, fasts, and daily prayer.
In my opinion, it is important for medical students to learn to address problems such as the one described in “Between God and Man” in a thoughtful and respectful fashion. To this end, we have created a new mandatory course for second-year medical students at the University of Louisville entitled “At the Intersection of Religion and Medicine.” Through case presentations, panel discussions, and correlative readings, we address issues such as the one raised in this case.
There are, of course, many examples of the “student’s dilemma” beyond that of the Muslim student. These include observant Jewish students who wish to wear a skull cap, the wearing of head coverings by Muslim female medical students, practical difficulties related to the desire of Muslim or Jewish students to have Halal or Kosher food, the need of students of various faith traditions to observe their religious holidays (the differing dates for Christmas, for example, between the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions and the Eastern Orthodox traditions).
One must, or course, be respectful of the diverse faith traditions of medical students. Ultimately, however, our young Muslim student will come to appreciate the primacy of the patient’s needs and will have to adapt his faith observation to patient care.
In the same way that some religious-based hospitals have sought in the past to attract house officers by accommodating their religious needs, I think it is very likely as the United States becomes an increasingly diverse society that we will see internship and residency programs designed to meet the needs of the observant Muslim student.