Care and Compassion at the Next Level
By S. Patricia Wittberg
Among the many types of educational ministries in which the Sisters of Charity have served has been the training of health care professionals. Nursing schools were begun in each of our hospitals soon after they were built; by 1910, Sisters were instructing student nurses in all but one of these institutions. Other instructional programs were often added to the courses of study that the hospitals offered: at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, for example, the Sisters also taught X-Ray technology, medical technology, and dietetics courses. The College of Mount St. Joseph also offered a degree in medical technology in which our Sisters taught.
The ministry of educating health care professionals continues today. S. Montiel Rosenthal, MD, is in her 18th year as a member of the core residency faculty for The Christ Hospital/University of Cincinnati Family Medicine Residency program. As clinical professor, she helps teach and train the next generation of Family Medicine physicians. She also teaches the medical school students from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, as well as midwifery, physician assistant and nurse practitioner students who have clinical rotations in her office.
S. Montiel’s particular area of interest is helping improve the mental and physical health of expectant mothers and their babies, especially the most socially and economically vulnerable ones. She wants to “discover the best medical practices and take them to the next level” of care. Hamilton County has, she says, an “obscenely high” infant mortality rate among its African-American population. She and the resident physicians she teaches work with Cradle Cincinnati to give mothers and babies a healthier start. She also helps lead sessions of The Christ Hospital’s “Centering Pregnancy Program” in which 10 to 12 expectant mothers and their support persons gather together with the residents and faculty for 11 times before and after their deliveries to share the stories, experiences, hopes, and concerns they may have.
S. Montiel says that the mothers in the Centering Pregnancy Program “draw on the power and wisdom of the group” in addressing questions about the physical discomforts of pregnancy, labor and delivery, breastfeeding, and infant care. One woman, who had not breastfed her first baby but had done so with her second, told her Centering Pregnancy group how the first had almost died while the second was healthy and thriving. “And I will breast feed this one,” she said emphatically, patting her belly. Her story persuaded every other mom in the group to breastfeed. “They would not have listened to me as much as they listened to her,” S. Montiel concluded. In another group, a formerly withdrawn and sullen teenaged mom volunteered that not only did she now know how to calm her sister’s fussy baby as a result of the Centering Pregnancy class, she had also taught her sister how to do so, wagging her finger with “And you NEVER shake the baby.” Many of The Christ Hospital’s residents continue to be committed to caring for the underserved and for vulnerable women after they complete their three years of training. Several have established group visits for expectant mothers in their own practices, to help the women share and learn from each other’s experiences.
S. Montiel enjoys developing training models to give the residents hands-on experiences in performing diagnostic and treatment procedures: an ultrasound model (a blueberry, a grape, or a small water-filled balloon suspended in a container of opaque gelatin) to give them practice in locating small cysts, and a cervical model for evaluating and treating women with cervical dysplasia, among others. The second- and third-year residents praise her teaching models, telling incoming first-year residents that this is one of the highlights of their training. One physician, after graduating from the residency program, texted S. Montiel, saying that she had just performed a procedure so well that other physicians assumed she had done hundreds of them – and it was her first time since practicing with S. Montiel’s models.
S. Montiel also teaches the residents how to manage with limited resources: reconfiguring a salad spinner, for example, to check blood samples for anemia during a rural Jamaican medical trip when a centrifuge was not available. She and her students volunteer during the summer and fall in a weekly clinic at the Belterra race track, where they care for the horse groomers, exercisers, and stable hands there. In these sessions, far distant from hospital emergency rooms, she shows the residents how to successfully treat injuries that they would otherwise not normally see.
For several years, S. Montiel has been studying and practicing acupuncture therapies to augment the treatment of her own patients. She has taught acupuncture to the residents one-on-one in the context of addressing a patient’s care, and has supervised individual residents in performing specific acupuncture techniques. S. Montiel has also offered a workshop on acupuncture to the residents and at least one physician, upon completing the residency program, currently uses acupuncture as part of her own practice.
All of these activities, S. Montiel says, witness to the Vincentian tradition of being with and for the poor and respecting their dignity. They also reflect our SC focus on women and children. And our country is sorely in need of this witness. “We have not, as a country, come to embrace and deal with health care as a human right for all, and not only for those with the money to pay for it,” she says.
In the past, nurses and other medical professionals trained by Sisters of Charity at our hospitals have carried our charism into health care settings around the country. In S. Montiel’s teaching work, we still do. of Guatemala.