911! A Shaman!
Mike Abrams, Executive Vice President of the Iowa Medical Society
The country's health care industry has a new "first." Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California, is the nation's first hospital to have an official policy to accommodate shamans.
A shaman is a kind of spiritual healer especially important to the Hmong culture. Merced, California is home to a large number of Hmong, and Mercy has approved nine different ceremonies (including soul calling) that shamans can perform as part of the healing process.
There are clear examples of Hmong patients responding to interventions by the shaman. It can be attributed to placebo, or miracle, or something in between, but the notion of a health care facility respecting the spiritual needs of the very sick has great merit and deserves congratulations.
It is the mechanization of medical care that often sends patients into a fury. We don't get all that many patient grievances in our offices anymore because we are not available to settle those complaints, but when we do, the issue is invariably about a perceived lack of respect by the physician or the office staff toward the patient. The physician was pursuing an appropriate clinical plan, but the patient felt either ill-informed or un-heard.
To have a hospital accommodate diverse spiritual observances and interventions is not only a sign of respect for a culture with very different mores, but it could be the beginning of a trend that will improve the quality of care for those whose clinical outcomes, for whatever reasons, are related to their spiritual health.
Recommended reading on this topic: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman.