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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Spirituality research gives doctor new meaning in her career

Following more than 20 years into her career as a physician, Dr. Sharon Hatcher (MD, FCMF) reached a point where she knew it was time to make a change. 

“It was a few years ago, when I started asking myself, ‘What do I really want to do with the time I have left to practice?’ I’m very idealistic and I saw a lot that could be changed in medicine,” she says. “Although there has been a focus on patient-centeredness in medical practice, there is still a big lag in what people experience in hospitals.”

The full-time professor and then single mother made the decision to pursue her Master of Clinical Science (M.Cl.Sc.) degree in Family Medicine. She is currently working to complete her thesis, tentatively titled “Integrating Spirituality and Medical Education: What do Students and Teachers have to say?”

Having the opportunity to complete a research project on this particular topic was one of the reasons she was drawn to this program. Now, after conducting focus groups with students and teachers and implementing a pilot project that has included having a spiritual counsellor working with second year residents in hospitals as part of the family health team, Dr. Hatcher says she is pleased with the response she’s received.  

“Students and teachers are really buying into it and embracing it. It’s about spirituality and a holistic approach to the person,” she says. “When you start out as a physician you are very focused on technical aspects and it takes time to start to realize that you’re really dealing with the process of people’s lives – including their dreams and their hopes – and your focus starts to change. I’m hoping to implement a program that will bring that awareness to learners earlier.”

Currently Associate Dean in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Sherbrooke, as well as Associate Dean at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi, Saguenay Medical Program Director and Chicoutimi Hospital Teaching Director, Dr. Hatcher says it was also the unique flexibility of the M.CI.Sc. program that enabled her to achieve her goals.

Although she began teaching two years after she began practising, she has always wanted to do more academic work and this program provided that opportunity. “This certainly wasn’t the beginning of my academic career,” she said. “But I always felt I hadn’t really done academic work because I went straight into medicine.”

Now nearing the completion of her M.Cl.Sc. degree, Dr. Hatcher says her experience in the program has given her confidence in academic research, as well as the tools and motivation to achieve her goal of developing a program to implement spirituality into the curriculum.

“I don’t think I would have had the courage if I hadn’t gone through this process,” she says. “It’s also been a journey of going to the source of what family medicine is about and it gives a lot of meaning to the second half of my career.”