This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.
Close Up

Keeping the faith

Holmes brings spirituality into medicine

David Holmes has integrated faith and medicine into UB’s medical school curriculum. Photo: NANCY J. PARISI

  • “I tell students ‘it’s not about you, it’s about your patient.’ We’re teaching patient-centered care, not doctor-centered care.”

    David Holmes
    Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Published: May 10, 2012

Family physician David Holmes firmly believes in whole-person health care, which includes the spiritual aspect. To that end, the clinical associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has integrated faith and medicine into the medical school curriculum.

As a member of the UB Spirituality in Healthcare committee, he received a Templeton Foundation grant to introduce spirituality into the curriculum of all four years of medical school. The curriculum is part of five required courses and one elective that informs students of the value of spirituality in the health care of many patients.

“I tell students ‘it’s not about you, it’s about your patient,’” says Holmes. “We’re teaching patient-centered care, not doctor-centered care.”

In the early 1990s in the U.S., only 2 percent of medical schools included the study of spirituality in their curriculums. It’s grown to more than 75 percent in recent years. Within that span of time, Holmes notes, much research had been published in medical journals studying the positive effect faith has on one’s health and well-being. For example, one of the biggest studies showed that those who attended religious services more than once a week lived seven years longer on average than people who didn’t attend. For the African-American community, the study showed that the difference was 14 years of extended life.

“Students have found that when they ask patients about spirituality and realize how important it is to some, the students have a better understanding of the value of incorporating that into health care,” explains Holmes.

In the first year, students are taught to work up a spiritual history of the patient along with the usual medical, surgical, social and sexual histories. Second-year students are taught how to assess how people spiritually cope with bad news.

Holmes directs the family medicine courses for third- and fourth-year students. In the third year—when students are doing their clinical rotations on the internal medicine clerkship—students spend a half-day doing hospital rounds with chaplains. It allows them to see the important role chaplains play in health care teams.

Holmes teaches one of the fourth-year electives, “Faith, Medicine and End-of-life Care.” He also directs the “Cross-Cultural Medicine” elective where, under supervision, students provide medical care in undeveloped countries.

Holmes, who completed his family medicine residency at UB in 1995 and joined the UB faculty at that time, has always been dedicated to working in medically underserved communities. In 2003, he co-founded a free medical clinic at Cornerstone Manor, a Christian-based homeless shelter for women and children in Buffalo.

In 2004, in association with his church, Eastern Hills Wesleyan, he co-founded Good Neighbors Health Care on Buffalo’s Lower East Side, a faith-based clinic for uninsured patients where family medicine, optometry, dental, chiropractic and counseling services are offered free of charge. Holmes says it primarily serves those who may have gotten a job to better their situation but the job doesn’t offer medical insurance and they don’t make enough to pay for private insurance.

“It made me more aware of the whole gap that exists in this country of the uninsured,” he says. “They may make a dollar a month too much to qualify for Medicaid.” Up to 80 volunteers now provide services at the clinic.

With SCORE International, Holmes journeyed to Haiti last summer to perform primary care in orphanages and tent cities, bringing along a group of UB medical students and a few high school students—two of the teens were his sons—to expose them to the needs of undeveloped countries. This summer, he’s going to the Dominican Republic with 20 high school students and a couple medical students.

Holmes spent the first five years of life in Kenya, where he was born, and in Ghana, where his dad taught at universities before the family moved to Stony Brook, Long Island, where he grew up. He first aspired to be a physician in high school, thinking he wanted to do something where he’d be helping people.

Holmes currently practices at the Erie County Medical Center’s Cleve-Hill Family Health Center in northeast Buffalo. The former president of the Western New York chapter of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations currently is the faculty advisor for UB medical students who are involved with the organization.

In 2007, Holmes was selected as New York State Family Physician of the Year by the New York State Academy of Family Physicians. In 2008, the American Academy of Family Physicians selected him to be one of five finalists for the American Family Physician of the Year award.

Holmes has been married for 24 years to Lucy Holmes, a faculty member in UB’s Department of Pediatrics and medical director of Hodge Pediatrics, which is associated with Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. They reside in Clarence with their children Nathan, 17, Joshua, 14, Naomi, 11, and Esther, 9.

The good-neighbor influence continues in his family. His oldest son was so taken with his experience during last summer’s Haitian trip that he organized a medical team with his mother and raised the money to return to Haiti during his winter break. And he wants to go back again.

As his father notes: “There are many ways of helping somebody to improve his or her health—it’s not just writing a prescription or doing surgery.”

Reader Comments

Dalene M. Aylward says:

I just want to publicly thank Dr. Holmes for all he does. I first met him via the Campus Ministries Association many years ago through his work with the Christian Medical & Dental Association. Now as prehealth advisor at UB, I advise students who have volunteered at his clinic & found the experience to be transformational in their pursuit of medical school. He has made an impact on innumerable lives in Buffalo & beyond. UB is very fortunate to have him with us.

Posted by Dalene M. Aylward, Sr. Academic Advisor, 05/10/12