Elective Year 2: Spirituality and Health - Spiritual Care Shadowing Elective

Department: Arts & Humanities in Health & Medicine (AHHM) Program, Undergraduate Medical Education

Spirituality and Health: Spiritual Care Shadowing Elective (YEAR 2 ONLY)

**NOT OFFERED IN 2020-21**

Location: University of Alberta Hospital
Duration: 12 hours, over a 3 month period (2 intakes per year: Fall/Winter).

To sign up for this elective, go to https://forms.gle/nqmJWVNYrRhw5xb86 To request additional information, contact the Administrator, MD Program/AHHM by email ahhm@ualberta.ca, or phone (780-492-0445).


This interprofessional shadowing elective offers 2nd year medical students an opportunity to learn about spiritual care offered by hospital chaplains, by accompanying them as they visit with patients.


Spiritual care recognizes the importance of attending to spiritual needs, such as connection, peace, meaning/purpose, and transcendence (see Büssing & Koenig, 2010), as an integral dimension of holistic healthcare. Spiritual care encompasses aspects such as compassionate presence, listening to the fears, hopes, and pain of patients, families, and staff, and supporting them in their suffering across a wide variety of clinical contexts, such as death and dying, chronic illness, disability, addiction, pain, and loss.

Students will:
1) receive an orientation to the elective, and spiritual care services offered at the University of Alberta Hospital (1 hour),
2) shadow hospital chaplains and engage in reflective conversations about spiritual assessment and care (8+ hours),
3) develop a short bibliography (1-2 pages) to develop an awareness of the literature that has addressed the connection between spirituality and health (students can select an area of the literature that is of particular interest to them)
(1 hour),
4) write a short reflective essay (1-2 pages) about the personal significance of completing the elective (1+ hour),
5) participate in a group debriefing discussion to reflect on what they learned (1 hour).


A pass/ fail grade will be assigned (as per the standard "Assessment of Elective Performance" form).

Students will be invited to complete a feedback form to help the elective coordinators improve this elective experience for students in subsequent years.

This elective is offered in partnership with the Spiritual Care & Cultural Services/ Volunteer Resources Program at the University of Alberta Hospital. All hospital chaplains at the UAH are certified and/ or recognized by the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care.


Students will learn about:
1) the role of hospital chaplains as integrated members of the health care team,
2) diverse meanings and understandings associated with spirituality and health, among both patients and care providers (including multicultural and multifaith awareness),
3) interconnections between physical, psychological, sociocultural and spiritual/ existential dimensions of a person's experience of illness and disease,
4) the importance of spiritual and emotional support that helps people to draw on spiritual, cultural, and religious resources for direction, strength, wisdom, and healing,
5) the place or role of spirituality in their own life, and how this can contribute to how they relate to their own and others' (patients, family members, colleagues) spiritual and existential concerns, as well as,
6) "best practice" approaches in relation to spirituality and health.

Additional Notes:

Maximum enrollment: 4 - 5 students Fall term/8 - 10 Winter term. Typically two students shadow a chaplain. Shadowing different chaplains over the course of the elective are encouraged.


Students may elect to explore artworks, watch films, read and discuss short stories, and other literature, that reflects on issues related to spirituality and health, during this elective.


Students who completed this elective in previous years shared that: "This elective provided great exposure to spiritual care at the UAH hospital and the role of spiritual care in medicine. It allows us to explore our own perceptions of spirituality in health and in our own lives and the resources available for our patients and for us as future providers," "I cannot emphasize enough the value of this elective for medical students. My experience in this elective reminded me of the humanism in medicine and the imperative trust and rapport built between patients and healthcare workers," and "I think this elective should be mandatory for all med students. It was very informative and it was refreshing to see real, caring patient interactions."


This elective, along with other AHHM electives, exists to support medical students in broadening their intellectual and clinical/ practice-based horizons, in particular with respect to the intersections that exist between the arts and humanities in relation to medicine.

Medical students can complete more than one 12-hour elective in Year 1 and 2.

Optional reference resources:

  • Agledahl, K. M., Gulbrandsen, P., Førde, R., & Wifstad, Å. (2011). Courteous but not curious: How doctors' politeness masks their existential neglect. Journal of Medical Ethics, 37, 650 - 654.
  • Büssing, A., & Koenig, H. G. (2010). Spiritual needs of patients with chronic diseases. Religions, 1(1), 18-27.
  • Also see Dr. Christina Pulchalski's lecture entitled "Spirituality: An essential element of patient-centred care" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8XmUg6fFho.
Last Updated: September 30, 2019