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12/10/2013

An interview with Michael McCarthy, “Exploring the intersection of faith and medicine.”

Michael McCarthy is a PhD candidate at Loyola University Chicago, and has his Master’s in Theological Studies degree from Weston Jesuit School of Theology.  Currently he is the Assistant Director for Clinical and Theological Ethics at the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at the Stritch School of Medicine.  Prior to joining the Bioethics Institute this past July (2013), he was Chaplain in the Ministry department at the Stritch School of Medicine.  Michael will defend his dissertation on Mission-based Medical Research in the summer of 2014.

What does your work entail as the assistant director for clinical and theological ethics?

Michael McCarthy:  I work closely with the ethics consultation service here at the Loyola Medical Center.  There are about ten of us who are on the consult service and who also participate in a larger ethics committee.   At the beginning of a case I do preliminary patient research and then I might dialogue with colleagues before speaking with the patient, when possible, or surrogate and key members of the medical team.

I also serve on the Complex Discharge Committee.  An example of a case that we might have is of an uninsured patient with a complicated medical history, who is medically ready to be discharged, but may not be eligible to receive the non-acute, but important follow-up care she needs.  This care might be in home palliative or Hospice care, a long term rehab facility, or some other costly form of care that is difficult to attain without insurance.  Here theology comes in – according to our mission what is our social responsibility – how can we help them enter their regular routine?  What responsibility does the institution have to help the family out?  How can we help facilitate a conversation with the family, to understand the challenges their loved one is presented with at an institutional level? We want to communicate that they are not being “kicked out”, but that it is in their best interest medically that the patient be discharged?

How does the PHYSICIAN VOCATION PROGRAM (PVP) impact the formation of medical students at the Stritch School of Medicine?

MM: The Physician’s Vocation Program is a four years formation program for medical students that focuses on the intersection of one’s faith commitments and the practice of medicine.  We draw from the tradition of formation of religious communities, which focus on education, prayer, community, and service.  In many ways for a person of faith, the formation process in medicine is similar, minus the emphasis on prayer. Many students here at Loyola have a sense of faith that calls them to medicine, though some surveys show that by their third year medical students are the most dissatisfied with medicine, even though they have not even begun to practice it!  We are asking if there is a way to cultivate the excitement and purpose  they feel in their first year by explicitly grounding such passion in a community of faith.  This sounds like a very ambitious project, but the reason that it is important is because meets students where they are in life, in relation to their spiritual needs. When conversations happen within the Physician’s Vocation Program, hopefully, their sense of purpose is reinforced. The first two years of the program explores in an academic setting the spiritual tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Religious themes in medicine.  In the third year, alongside clinical rotations, they make the 19th annotated retreat of St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, which are based in scripture and personal conversations with God.  In the fourth year, students enroll in a capstone course, which is still in the planning-stages.

How do you envision spirituality as an integral part of patient care?

MM: It is an integral part when patients want it to be, but it needs to be raised as a question in order for physician’s to know.  Research shows that for patients who care about spirituality, 95% want their physicians to ask them about religion, faith, and spiritual practices, and 50% of those who do not see themselves as spiritual still want their physicians to ask about the topic.  In whatever words we use to talk about spirituality – it’s something that’s personal, that gives the patient greater meaning.  There is an identity within that question that moves beyond physical symptoms and touches how a patient understands herself. It is that part that makes it important for patient care.

(Interview conducted by Brent Smith, intern, Dominican University)

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