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This article is devoted to the discussion of spirituality in the context of teaching some aspects of spiritual care to students of higher medical education. In our opinion, it is extremely important to teach such basic spiritual competencies as the skills of assessing the patient’s spiritual needs, methods of spiritual support, and developing active listening skills, which will significantly improve the quality of medical care.
Keywords: higher medical education, spirituality, spiritual care, competencies.

Kravchun P. G.
Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor, Head of the Department of Internal Medicine # 2 of Clinical Immunology and Allergology named after Academician L. T. Malaya,
Kharkiv National Medical University, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Zaikina T. S.
PhD, Associate Professor of the Department of Internal Medicine # 2 of Clinical Immunology and Allergology named after Academician L. T. Malaya,
Kharkiv National Medical University, Kharkiv, Ukraine


The comprehensive development of a personality is impossible without its spiritual component. This process lasts a lifetime, but its foundation is laid in childhood and youth. A special role in this belongs to educational institutions, which, quite logically, have a certain responsibility for the development of basic spiritual values, such as love, mercy, kindness, honesty, the pursuit of justice, tolerance, and patience. These key values form the well-known concept of “humanity” and are essential for healthcare professionals.

The goal is to show that spirituality is an integral part of the process of training future doctors.

The main task of a healthcare professional is to preserve human health. The very definition of “health” proposed by the World Health Organization includes not only a state of complete physical but also mental and social well-being [8].

Given the importance of this concept as an important dimension of health, the World Health Organization recommended introducing the study of spirituality and spiritual support into the training of doctors and nurses in medical education [3; p. 78].

According to recent surveys, about 59 % of British and 90 % of American medical schools have introduced a course on spirituality into their curricula [1; p. 195; 3, p. 78].

However, the concept of “spirituality” in general and in higher medical education in particular is quite abstract. Therefore, its use in different contexts often leads to different perceptions [5; p. 179].

According to Puchalski, spirituality is an aspect of humanity that reflects a person’s attitude to life, the search for its meaning, as well as self-awareness in the moment, in communication with other people, nature and the supernatural [6; p. 885]. In turn, spiritual care should be embodied in the unconditional respect of health care workers for the dignity of patients, building open, trusting and honest relationships between health care workers and patients, as well as fostering hope in the patient [7; p. 19].

Despite the undoubted importance of such an innovation, there are still debates about what content should be taught in this course and what teaching strategies should be used [2; p. 54]. A retrospective analysis of the studies conducted has demonstrated the need for a clear definition of such concepts as spirituality, spiritual health, spiritual care, as well as the inclusion of such aspects of spirituality as cultural and social diversity, ethics and justice in the curriculum. In addition, it is extremely important to teach basic spiritual competencies, such as the skills of assessing the patient’s spiritual needs, methods of spiritual support or pastoral care, and developing active listening skills necessary for spiritual care during patient treatment [4; p.1043]. These knowledge and competencies are of particular importance in such areas of medicine as geriatrics and palliative care.

According to the researchers, the leading role among the strategies for teaching this content should belong to the methods of brainstorming, role-playing, case method, self-reflection exercises, discussions during seminars and involvement of invited speakers [4; p. 1048]. This approach has demonstrated its effectiveness in making higher medical education students aware of the importance of spiritual support for patients and their role in this, as well as acquiring specific skills to provide this spiritual support.

The implementation of such a course will help higher medical education students to acquire an important competence – the ability to provide holistic care not only in the physiological but also in the spiritual dimensions, which will allow to realize the famous call of Socrates about the need to treat not only the body but also the soul.

List of references

1. Herschkopf M., Jafari N., Puchalski C. Religion and spirituality in medical education (online edition). Oxford Academic. 2017. № 1. Р. 195-214. DOI:
2. Lambie D., Egan R., Walker S. et al. How spirituality is understood and taught in New Zealand medical schools. Palliative and Supportive Care. 2013. № 13 (01). Р. 53-58. DOI:
3. Lucchetti G., Lucchetti A. L. G., Espinha D. C. M. et al. Spirituality and health in the curricula of medical schools in Brazil. BMC Med Education. 2012. № 12. 78. DOI:
4. Mthembu T. G., Wegner L., Roman N. V. Teaching spirituality and spiritual care in health sciences education: a systematic review. African Journal for Physical Activity and Health Sciences. 2016. № 22. Р. 1036-1057.
5. Nahardani S. Z., Ahmadi F., Bigdeli S. et al. Spirituality in medical education: a concept analysis. Med Health Care and Philosophy. 2019. № 22. Р. 179-189. DOI:
6. Puchalski C., Ferrell B., Virani R. et al. Improving the quality of spiritual care as a dimension of palliative care: the report of the Consensus Conference. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2009. № 12 (10). Р. 885-904. DOI:
7. Sawatzky R., Pesut B. Attributes of spiritual care in nursing practice, Journal of Holistic Nursing. 2005. № 23 (1), 19-33. DOI:, PMid:15665264.
8. Official website of the World Health Organization URL: (accessed on 29.10.22).