A new national study among 1,134 physicians revealed that the majority (72%) believe that miracles have occurred in the past and 70% believe that they can occur today. In addition, 69% indicated that religion is a reliable and necessary guide to life.
The study was conducted among physicians representing various religious backgrounds, including Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christian and other), Jewish (Orthodox Jewish, Conservative Jewish, Reform Jewish and Culturally Jewish), Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Scientologist, Islamic, Shinto, Sikh, and other religious traditions as well as those with no religious traditions.
Among the findings:
- Views of Religious Texts
While physicians claim to be religious, their perceptions of religious texts suggest that they should be metaphorically translated rather than literally translated. The majority of physicians (56%) agreed that the stories presented in religious scripts (such as the parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus for Jews or the resurrection of Jesus for Christians) should be seen as metaphorically true. Among the physicians who claimed to practice a specific religion, 73% considered themselves to be a liberal member while only 27% considered themselves to be a literal believer in their religion.
- Perceptions of Prayer and its Significance
While there seems to be some doubt among physicians regarding the validity of religious text, prayer plays a somewhat significant role in their lives. A clear majority (70%) reported that prayer is either somewhat important or very important in their personal and professional lives. And 66% of physicians indicated that they encourage their patients to pray. Nearly half of physicians (49%) reported that they pray for their patients as a whole with a slightly higher percentage (55%) claimed to pray for individual patients.
- Religion and the Practice of Medicine
The majority of physicians (71%) believe that very little or none of the outcome of medical and surgical treatment of their patients is related to forces totally outside of their control (referring to the “supernatural” or an “Act of God”). While religion plays an important role in physicians’ lives overall, they seem to take a more “scientific” approach to practicing medicine.
My good friend, Harold G. Koenig, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Associate Professor of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center commented about this study to the Christian Medical Association
“I would suspect that the answer to the last question (regarding the limited role of the supernatural in miracles) is really the more accurate description of how most physicians feel. At least it’s consistent with what has been reported by the latest research published in peer-reviewed medical journals (vs. an unverified report based on a press release by the surveying organization).
“Farr Curlin and colleagues from the University of Chicago conducted a national random survey of physicians of all specialties.(1) In that study, they surveyed 2,000 physicians, with 1,144 responding. In that survey, a quite different picture emerges. They reported that 81% rarely or never pray with their patients, 66% rarely or never even inquire about patients’ religious/spiritual issues, and 45% say that it is usually or never appropriate to do so.
“In one of the best studies published prior to the Curlin study, Monroe and colleagues surveyed 476 physicians practicing in the Bible Belt (Southeast United States).(2) In that survey, only 5.9% said that a physician should pray with a patient in an outpatient setting, and this increased to only 26.7% for praying with terminal patients. Even more shocking was the fact that 23% said that if a dying patient requests prayer with a physician, that the physician should refuse to do so! You can imagine how things might be outside of the Bible Belt. All these findings are consistent with a Harvard study reporting that 70% of terminal cancer patients indicated that their spiritual needs were not met by any health professional (physicians, nurses or chaplains).(3)
“Bottom line: things are probably not nearly as rosy as the HCD Research survey suggests.
“There is good rationale behind the recommendation that physicians inquire about and address the spiritual needs of all patients, based both on the research justifying such inquiry and simply common sense.(4)”
- House Testminony of Dr. Harold Koenig
- Experts Link Faith and Health
- Christian Medical Association Ethics Statement: Miraculous Healing
- Standards 4 Life: Faith & Health
- Curlin F, Chin M, Sellergren S, Roach C, lentos J (2006). The association of physicians’ religious characteristics with their attitudes and self-reported behaviors regarding religion and spirituality in the clinical encounter. Medical Care 44:446-453
- Monroe MH, Bynum D, Susi B, Phifer N, Schultz L, Franco M, MacLean CD, Cykert S, Garrett J (2003). Primary care physician preferences regarding spiritual behavior in medical practice. Archives of Internal Medicine 163:2751-2756
- Balboni TA, Vanderwerker LC, Block SD, Paulk ME, Lathan CS, Peteet JR, Prigerson HG (2007). Religiousness and spiritual support among advanced cancer patients and associations with end-of-life treatment preferences and quality of life. Journal of Clinical Oncology 25:555-560
- Koenig HG (2007). Spirituality in Patient Care (2nd ed). Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press