Beliefs of Primary Care Residents Regarding Spirituality and Religion in Clinical Encounters with Patients: A Study at a Midwestern U.S. Teaching Institution

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PurposeTo assess primary care residents’ beliefs regarding the role of spirituality and religion in the clinical encounter with patients.MethodIn 2003, at a major midwestern U.S. teaching institution, 247 primary care residents were administered a questionnaire adapted from that used in the Religion and Spirituality in the Medical Encounter Study to assess whether primary care house officers feel they should discuss religious and spiritual issues with patients, pray with patients, or both, and whether personal characteristics of residents, including their own spiritual well-being, religiosity, and tendency to use spiritual and religious coping mechanisms, are related to their sentiments regarding spirituality and religion in health care. Simple descriptive, univariate, and two types of multivariable analyses were performed.ResultsData were collected from 227 residents (92%) in internal medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine/pediatrics, and family medicine. One hundred four (46%) respondents felt that they should play a role in patients’ spiritual or religious lives. In multivariable analysis, this sentiment was associated with greater frequency of participating in organized religious activity (odds ratio [OR] 1.55, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.20-1.99), a higher level of personal spirituality (OR 1.05, 95% CI 1.02-1.08), and older resident age (OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.02-1.21; C-statistic 0.76). In general, advocating spiritual and religious involvement was most often associated with high personal levels of spiritual and religious coping and with the family medicine training program. Residents were more likely to agree with incorporating spirituality and religion into patient encounters as the gravity of the patient's condition increased (p < .0001).ConclusionsApproximately half of primary care residents felt that they should play a role in their patients’ spiritual or religious lives. Residents’ agreement with specific spiritual and religious activities depended on both the patient's condition and the resident's personal characteristics.

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