Interview: Dr. Walt Says Opportunities Abound To Bring Faith Into Medicine

Here’s an interview with me, from HCJB Global, about my teaching time at a large international medical conference in Quito, Ecuador, last month. It was an honor to be asked to speak and I pray the information I shared will be fruitful. I’ve also posted another blog about the conference: “Dr. Walt Teaches ‘Spirituality Plays Key Role’ at Annual Medical Conference in Ecuador.”

Dr. Walt Larimore, an award-winning family physician, medical journalist, best-selling author, educator and HCJB Global board member, spoke at the Jornadas Médicas (medical conference) in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 24-28, 2011. HCJB Global’s Ralph Kurtenbach interviewed him while he was in Quito. Here are some segments from that interview:

Q: You arrived here in Quito several days ago, Dr. Larimore. Could you summarize your time with us at HCJB Global in the Latin America Region?

Well, for me it’s been a time of learning about the history, the culture and the work of HCJB Global and to see in action how it’s being the Voice and Hands of Jesus—not just in Quito and not even just in Ecuador, but … beginning to reach across the world.

Q: You gave a seminar called “The Saline Solution,” in which you gave a basic explanation about saline representing the “saltiness” of the gospel … and that you don’t give it just as a general dispensation to every patient without first knowing the status of that patient. My question is, in the West, how widespread do you see the prescribing of medications for a patient’s problem that might actually have roots that are much more spiritual?

I think it’s very common, and not just in the West. I’ve lectured in China, India, Pakistan, Europe and even in portions of Africa, and there’s a tendency for practitioners—for healthcare professionals—to prescribe medicine very quickly for a whole variety of ailments that are spiritual in origin.

I am part of a movement to teach healthcare professionals that it’s very appropriate to treat medically when indicated. But it’s equally appropriate to recognize patients’ spiritual needs, and then begin the process of starting to treat them or refer them to someone who can.

That’s one of the things that I love about HCJB Global as it expands its healthcare ministry. It’s doing so not just by providing medicine, but by providing the gospel along with it to heal people both spiritually and physically—to give them a hope that medicine itself cannot give. I mean, we can give hope for disease treatment and sometimes cure, but we can give no hope for eternal life apart from the gospel.

Q: Do you find receptivity to the “Saline Solution” seminars better in some parts of the world than others? And how do you find it here in Latin America?

Great question. We’re in 67 countries now with the “Saline Solution,” and whether it’s China, the Philippines, Sub-Saharan Africa or South America (it’s the first time in Ecuador), receptivity seems to be the same.

Physicians who’ve been practicing even a very short time realize they’ve never been trained to meet the spiritual needs [of patients who] come in their offices every day.

And as you’ve seen in the crowd of physicians here, there’s a great deal of interest [in this topic] and receptivity. That’s common across the globe.

Q: Will those who took the four-hour session be equipped to take a “spiritual history” on patients?

It’s not just taking a spiritual history, but writing a “faith prescription” and to know how to tell faith stories and to raise “faith flags” … to know how to present the gospel in a very short time. We call it “single-verse evangelism.”

[It’s also knowing] how and when to refer [patients] to … pastoral professionals … to begin to develop a toolbox that [doctors] can carry into the examining room with each patient by initially asking the question, “What is God doing in this patient’s life, and how can I come alongside him or her?”

Q: So it adds a different aspect to their professionalism?

As you’ve heard today, physicians are saying, “No one’s ever taught me how to do this.” And so it’s really fun to give them another tool that will help—I believe it will help—God to raise more fruit, not only through them but in them.

Q: Do patients ask for this spiritual component as part of what they expect of their family physician?

Not actively. My experience—and what the research shows—is that the spiritual door is a door that has two doorknobs on it.

The patients are scared to open the door because they’re scared the doctor will castigate them or denigrate them.

The doctors are scared because they’ve never been taught how or that it’s appropriate.

But if one of them budges that door just a little bit, then there’s a possibility for that door to open and for spiritual treatment to begin.