Forty years ago a revolution began in sports. Title 9, “designed to ensure gender equality in education”, changed the demographics on athletic fields.
But it has also changed the field of medicine.
After 1972, more women started to enroll in PhD programs, thanks in large part to Title 9 legislation that made sex-discrimination illegal at educational institutions receiving federal funds.
In 1972, women earned 9% of medical degrees in the U.S. In 2011, they earned 50% of them.
“There are a lot more women who have entered the profession who are now physicians… those who are in their thirties and forties,” said Dr. Michael Balboni, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, speaking at a panel on the convergence of spirituality and medicine.
“Women are changing the way medicine is practiced. There’s a lot more openness and receptivity to other aspects than the [medical] science. I think we will continue to see that trend over the next twenty years and it’s going to continue to change medicine dramatically as the people who are the leaders begin to retire.”
In many cases this openness has meant considering people holistically, including valuing the spiritual aspects of a patient that can’t be seen or measured physically. That is, aspects which can’t be assessed by a material sense of the individual.
For a long time, western medicine hasn’t been structured to take into account a more spiritual sense. But thinking about a patient holistically is gaining ground.
Of course, the nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale – who had a keen interest in spirituality – practiced this approach back in the 19th century. She is considered to be “one of the first holistic nurses,” according to an “official nursing specialty” of the American Nursing Association devoted to a practice of “holistic caring and healing”.
A more recent pioneering female clinician, Lissa Rankin, M.D., asks in a TED talk, “What if I told you that caring for your body is the least important part of your health?”
Dr. Rankin refers to her “inner pilot light” as an intuitive sense of how to address things that are out of balance. She found that listening to this inner light radically affected both her life and her medical practice.
The biomedical model assumes that the answer to better health is outside of you — something like a drug or other medicine that you need to consume. But Rankin found this wasn’t healing her patients.
She experimented with various approaches and discovered that addressing what’s within us is more important, including caring for the mind, the heart, and the soul. Doing that helped make her patients healthy.
She says, “If you knew that… letting us see that beautiful light within you was the solution to your health problems, would you be willing to do it?”
And she added, “I dare you!”
It’s a dare we should all take, but how should we begin?
We can start by asking ourselves — what’s the source of this light?
Jesus, who was so clearly in tune with his source of spiritual light, said the kingdom of God is within you. To me, this means that we each reflect the radiance of divine love, like a mirror reflects sunlight. Light is an unstoppable force that displaces any sense of darkness in its path. Darkness doesn’t have to be removed. It naturally disappears in the face of light.
Similarly, I’ve experienced what even a small acknowledgement of a divine source of love can do to something like fear, anxiety, or frustration. I’ve seen how yielding to that inner light can still rapids of anxious thoughts by giving me a fresh sense of who I am. It provides a spiritual perspective to help me grow out of old ways of thinking, into a new frame of mind.
Assuming innovative thinking like that of Dr. Rankin is an early sign of what’s to come in the field of medicine, think what women will bring to that – for the benefit of women and men – over the next forty years.
If finding “that beautiful light within you” can bring health and healing, perhaps it’s pointing to a divine consciousness of harmony which is the very essence of who we truly are.