Younus waits for telltale signs—such as a cross or a rabbi at the patient's bedside—before discussing religion, and when he does talk about faith, he says he speaks generally and focuses on common ground rather than specific Islamic doctrines. "I'm talking of faith, but I'm religion neutral," he says.
Hospitals are also places where patients are vulnerable, so it's inappropriate to missionize to them, Younus says. When one patient asked him for Islamic literature, he politely declined. "Once you're well, we will get together," he told the patient.
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When he talks to Jewish patients, Zachary Epstein-Peterson, a student at the Medical School at Harvard University, anticipates discussing the Jewish tradition of viewing the "silver lining" in suffering.
"I think it would be difficult to talk about, certainly, because nobody wants to say to their patient, 'Boy, you're dying of cancer, but on the bright side, you can have a spiritual transformation.' But if the opportunity presented itself, [I would] say, 'I know this is very difficult for you. Perhaps your faith can offer some sort of guidance,'" says Epstein-Peterson, a former member of the board of the Maimonides Society, a Jewish medical student group at Harvard.
Epstein-Peterson and Siddiqi, the Michigan student, say their groups often draw participation from students of other faiths. Both also encourage students to attend events sponsored by other faith groups to better prepare themselves to interact with their patients.
"In general, students are aware of the faith organizations here," Epstein-Peterson says. "I'm not sure if they know the specifics of what [the groups] do. They might think we have prayer meetings."
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