Health Care and Spirituality, with Dr. John Welshofer
Imagine you suffer from a painful disc injury that prevents you from engaging in many of your daily activities. For most people, the obvious course of action is to go see your doctor, where it’s likely you’ll have a physical examination and be prescribed medications and/or surgery. At the end of this course of treatment, you hope to be pain-free and back to your daily routine. Many patients never stop to ask themselves, “is there anything else I could be doing to improve my circumstances?” Dr. John Welshofer would answer you with an emphatic “yes!,” and he’s here today to tell you why.
While the idea of spirituality can be off-putting for some, a growing number of physicians believe spirituality can play a significant role in our physical and emotional health. On this episode of Back Talk Doc, our host, Sanjiv Lakhia, speaks with Dr. John Welshofer, a physician that believes in integrating faith and spirituality into the healing process. Always a science-minded person, Dr. Welshofer became interested in medicine after a severe car accident left a close friend paralyzed from the waist down. (2:17) After his residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation, he regularly dedicated his time to medical mission trips, where he served in communities that lacked health care.
Wanting to give back and serve others, Dr. John Welshofer traveled with the Bless Back Worldwide organization to Haiti and Nicaragua to provide care for underserved communities. For Dr. Welshofer, this experience gave him perspective on how fortunate he was to live in the United States. “[I]t makes you very appreciative of what you have, but also sort of stokes the fires of trying to help others beyond just your own comfort zone.” (6:05) While Dr. Welshofer encountered some truly devastating cases, the positive metamorphosis he observed over the course of return trips showed him the power of the human spirit to make the most amazing things out of the most horrendous circumstances. (7:21)
Dr. Lakhia and Dr. Welshofer go on to explore the weighty question of whether doctors should discuss religious or spiritual beliefs with patients. Dr. Welshofer avoids spiritual questions, instead opting to approach the topic with subtlety. “I don’t really overtly do spiritual histories…I more just try to provide hope for people that don’t seem to have hope when day-to-day they’re going through significant difficulties. (11:52)
While a Doctor should avoid imposing their beliefs on patients, Dr. Welshofer encourages physicians to speak to their patients about their spiritual connections using open-ended questions, as it can help them maintain hope in desperate times, “don’t be afraid to ask a question, if it’s a benign question, you’re not forcing anything, just…how are you doing emotionally and spiritually with your problems?” (21:25)
Having treated thousands of patients in his career, Dr. Welshofer has identified two types of doctors, “You have doctors who treat the problems people have, and then you have doctors who treat people that have problems. If you're a problem treater, you get burned out. Because if all day long, you see 30, 40 patients…all day long it’s people bringing problems. As opposed to, if you're a people treater, then you get to know the patient and then the patient becomes personal to you. So, it's no longer ‘I'm treating the disc problem that Nancy has, I'm treating Nancy that has a disc problem,’ and there's a huge difference. (19:20)
Back Talk Doc is brought to you by Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, with offices in North and South Carolina. To learn more about Dr. Lakhia and treatment options for back and spine issues, go to backtalkdoc.com. To schedule an appointment with Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, you can call us at 1-800-344-6716 or visit our website at carolinaneurosurgery.com.