Research Observes Doctors’ Consideration of Patients’ Spiritual Needs


Research from Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, the official journal of the Association of Professional Chaplains and a publication from Routledge, aims to better understand doctors’ attentiveness to patients’/families’ spiritual concerns as well as doctors’ attitudes towards referrals to chaplains.

While chaplains are the specialists in religion- and spirituality-related healthcare concerns, they require cooperation from other health professionals in order to do their job effectively. Doctors play an especially important role in integrating religion/spirituality into healthcare, as evidenced by numerous studies involving patient surveys.  These studies also show, however, that a majority of doctors rarely bring up religion/spirituality in cases where the patient isn’t near death.

In the study, 108 pediatricians and oncologists were surveyed regarding their beliefs about the health relevance of and their attentiveness to their patients’ spirituality. In a crisis situation, 49% reported inquiring about spirituality, and 83% agreed that doctors should refer patients to chaplaincy. Those whose clinical experience had positively impacted their spirituality were more likely to address spirituality/religion in a crisis situation, and self-identified Christians were four times more likely to address spirituality routinely whereas those who expected negative patient reaction were 19% less likely to inquire. Only 3% of respondents reported routinely performing a spiritual history with new patients/ families, suggesting that training in this area is lacking.

Several limitations were identified, one of which was the focus on respondents from the American Northwest. Additionally, the wording and format of the survey subjected the results to a certain degree of self-reporting bias. The authors suggest further research covering other regions with different research designs, such as intervention studies to determine the best ways to educate future and current doctors.

Free Access Article:
Doctors' Attentiveness to the Spirituality/Religion of their Patients in Pediatric and Oncology Settings in the Northwest USA
, Stephen D. W. King, Martha A. Dimmers, Shelby Langer & Patricia E. Murphy
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About Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy

The Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy publishes peer-reviewed, scholarly articles based on original research, quality assurance/improvement studies, descriptions of programs and interventions, program/intervention evaluations, and literature reviews on topics pertinent to pastoral/spiritual care, clinical pastoral education, chaplaincy, and spirituality in relation to physical and mental health.
Editor: Kevin J. Flannelly, PhD  •  Print ISSN: 0885-4726  •  Online ISSN: 1528-6916  •  4 issues per year

About the Association of Professional Chaplains

With commitment to interfaith ministry and the professional practice of chaplaincy care, the Association of Professional Chaplains serves chaplains in all types of health and human service settings. Our more than 4,000 member chaplains and affiliates are involved in chaplaincy care of all persons, respecting their diverse cultures and beliefs. As a national, not-for-profit professional association, APC advocates for quality chaplaincy care of all persons in health care facilities, correctional institutions, long term care units, rehabilitation centers, hospice, the military and other specialized settings.

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