Spirituality has played a role in health care for centuries, but by the early 20th century, technological advances in diagnosis and treatment overshadowed the more human element of medicine. In response, a core group of medical academics and practitioners launched a movement to reclaim medicine’s spiritual roots, defining spirituality broadly as a search for meaning, purpose, and connectedness. This commentary describes the history of the field of spirituality and health—its origins, its furtherance through the Medical School Objectives Project, and its ultimate incorporation into the curricula of over 75% of U.S. medical schools. The diverse efforts in developing this field within medical education and in national and international organizations created a need for a cohesive framework. The National Competencies in Spirituality and Health—created at a consensus conference of faculty from seven medical schools and reported here for the first time—answered that need.
Also reported are some of the first applications of these competencies—competency-linked curricular projects. This issue of Academic Medicine features articles from three of the participating medical schools as well as one from an additional medical school. This commentary also describes another competency application: the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health–Templeton Reflection Rounds initiative, known as G-TRR, which has provided clerkship students with the opportunity, through reflection on their patient encounters, to develop their own inner resources to address the suffering of others. This commentary concludes with the authors’ proposals for future directions for the field.