Physicians’ Opinions on Engaging Patients’ Religious and Spiritual Concerns: A National Survey

Christopher L. Smyre, Hyo Jung Tak, Augustine P. Dang, Farr A. Curlin, John D. Yoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Context: There has been a sustained debate in the medical literature over whether physicians should engage with patients’ religious and spiritual concerns. Objectives: This study explores what physicians believe about the relative importance and appropriateness of engaging with patients’ spiritual concerns and physicians’ choices of interventions. Methods: In 2010, a questionnaire was mailed to 2016 U.S. physicians with survey items querying about the relative importance of addressing patients’ spiritual concerns at the end of life and the appropriateness of interventions in addressing those concerns. The survey also contained an experimental vignette to assess physicians’ willingness, if asked by patients, to participate in prayer. Results: Adjusted response rate was 62% (1156/1878). The majority of physicians (65%) believe that it is essential to good practice for physicians to address patients’ spiritual concerns at the end of life. Physicians who were more religious were more likely to believe that spiritual care is essential to good medical practice (odds ratio: 2.76, 95% CI 1.12–6.81) and believe that it is appropriate to always encourage patients to talk to a chaplain (odds ratio: 5.71, 95% CI: 2.28–14.3). A majority of the physicians (55%) stated that, if asked, they would join the family and patient in prayer. Physicians’ willingness to join ranged from 67% when there was concordance between the physician's and the patient's religious affiliation to 51% when there was discordance. Conclusion: The majority of U.S. physicians endorse a limited role in the provision of spiritual care, although opinions varied based on physicians’ religious characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-905
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Chaplaincy
  • end-of-life care
  • national survey
  • prayer
  • religion/spirituality
  • spiritual care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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