Doctors Differ From Patients on Religion
Survey Shows 76% of U.S. Doctors Believe in God
WebMD News Archive
June 22, 2005 -- Doctors often differ in their religious beliefs from the
patients they treat every day, according to a new survey.
The study shows that doctors are about as likely to have a religious
affiliation as the general population. But researchers found that doctors are
more than twice as likely as their patients to identify themselves as
"spiritual" rather than "religious" and cope with major
problems in life without relying on God.
The study also shows that more than half of doctors say their religious
beliefs influence how they practice medicine.
"We have paid a good deal of attention to the religious beliefs of
patients and how their faith influences medical decisions," researcher Farr
Curlin, MD, instructor in the department of medicine and a member of the
MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, says
in a news release. "But until now no one has looked in the same way at
physicians, the other half of every doctor-patient relationship. These findings
lead us to further wonder how doctors' faiths shape their clinical
Doctors More Religious Than Expected
In the study, researchers mailed 12-page surveys to 2,000 practicing U.S.
doctors in various specialties. The surveys asked about their religious
beliefs, and researchers compared the responses to a 1998 general social survey
of the U.S. population. The results appear in the July issue of Journal of
General Internal Medicine.
About two-thirds of doctors responded to the survey; 76% said they believe
in God and 59% said they believe in some sort of afterlife. That compares to
83% and 74% of the general population.
Although doctors were less likely to believe in God or an afterlife, the
survey showed that 90% of doctors attend religious services at least once a
month compared with 81% of their patients.
Researchers say the results were surprising because religious belief tends
to decrease as education and income levels rise. In addition, they write that
studies have shown that few scientists believe in God or an afterlife.
"We did not think physicians were nearly this religious," says
Curlin. "We suspect that people who combine an aptitude for science with an
interest in religion and an affinity for public service are particularly
attracted to medicine. The responsibility to care for those who are suffering,
and the rewards of helping those in need, resonate throughout most religious
Doctors Differ in Religious Beliefs
Researchers say that although more than 80% of patients describe themselves
as Protestant or Catholic, only 60% of doctors describe themselves the same
That means that doctors' religious beliefs may often differ from those of
their patients. For example, the survey shows:
- 5.3% of doctors are Hindu vs. 0.2% of nondoctors
- 14.1% of doctors are Jewish vs. 1.9% of nondoctors
- 1.2% of doctors are Buddhist vs. 0.2% of nondoctors
- 2.7% of doctors are Muslim vs. 0.5% of nondoctors
In addition, the study showed that the role of religion varied among doctors
of different religions and medical specialties.
Fifty-five percent of doctors said that their religious beliefs influenced
their practice of medicine.
Christian, Mormon, and Buddhist doctors were most likely to say that their
religious beliefs influenced how they practice medicine, and Jewish and Hindu
physicians were the least likely.
Doctors in family practice and pediatrics were also more likely to say that
their religious beliefs carried into all of their other dealings and that they
looked to God for "support and guidance." Psychiatrists and
radiologists were least likely to carry their religious beliefs into the