Medicine, Spirituality and Healing



Last week I had an opportunity to go to a talk given by Saralyn Mark, the author of a “just about to be released” book called “Stellar Medicine.” This was part of a brown-bag lunch series sponsored at the University of New Mexico by the Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy. It was a fascinating and refreshing 90 minutes.

Mark is a world renowned MD whose career has spanned the breadth of endocrinology, geriatrics, PTSD and women’s health policy. She is also, today, a medical and scientific policy advisor to NASA. The advertisement for the lunch indicated she would talk about women’s health and health policy, healing, faith and spirituality – topics all near and dear to my heart.

She gave a brief overview of the history of health policy in medicine for women – a history that would certainly leave any woman worried about her status as a valuable member of the citizenry in the eyes of those who set medical research and drug policy. Did you know, for example, that even today there is no enforced requirement that drugs being tested for approval by the FDA include as many women in the study groups as men? Thus, drugs can be approved for both men and women based on largely male study groups and without any real understanding of the way a drug might affect a woman versus a man. But, this was not the most interesting aspect of the talk.

After sharing this information, Mark read the titles of the chapters of her book and gave the audience glimpses into each chapter. When she came to the chapter that focused on spirituality, faith and healing she said that this was the chapter she loved the most when she was writing the book and the one she most loved to discuss. It was a chapter that grew out of watching her mother fight and beat a terminal illness but also losing dear family members.

After talking about the chapter a bit, she did note, however, that it was a chapter that the media and her colleagues least want to discuss. She described a few experiences that really resonated with me after my efforts to talk about spiritual healing with the media, MD’s and legislators. In our secular world, the media and medical doctors get very uncomfortable when you discuss anything about spirituality, faith and healing. Mark said, something along these lines when referencing how tough it is to discuss these issues: If you can’t study it (using medical methodologies), you can’t report it. Yet, she went on to say, these (spirituality) are things we know because we can feel them and we can sense them and they are just so intrinsic to our nature. In her Jewish faith, she says she has learned that we are all connected and she believes we are all part of a grand universe.

Mark lit up when she discussed these ideas and what she believes. And, what I found quite interesting was the focus of the Q&A after she had finished her presentation. The audience was made up of about 15 women who were all MD’s, nurses or public health professionals – except me. And, the thing they most wanted to explore further was the issue of spirituality, faith and healing. Even when the woman who coordinated the discussion asked the audience about other aspects of Mark’s presentation, the women who responded would dodge the question and bring it back to spirituality.

This experience reminded me of just how deeply our society wants to find and understand the Divine – some measure of spirituality, faith, and wellness. After spending 90 minutes listening to Mark, watching her light up as she discussed her own experiences of the Divine, I came away grateful. I am grateful there are MD’s well respected in their field who are prepared to open the dialogue to a wider view – to the possibility (for Marks, based on what I heard, the certainty) that we are more than just blood and bones. And, I am looking forward to exploring these topics further by reading her book.