For many doctors (religious or not), the practice of medicine is more a “job” than a “calling”, even though there may be an undercurrent of “desire to serve”. Ask any job applicant, and you’ll get the typical answer: “I am applying for this job because I want to help people.” Doctors enter medicine for many reasons, one of which may be “to help people”, but this is different from being called specifically to serve a certain group of people. It does bring a reality check for those patients who believe that a doctor’s religious affiliation may have a greater influence on the altruistic motives of that doctor than a doctor who does not claim a religious affiliation.
Thus I was not surprised to read that Reuters reported on a study suggesting that “religious” U.S. physicians are no more likely than their “non-religious” colleagues to care for poor or focus on underserved patients. The lead investigator of the study was Dr. Farr Curlin of the University of Chicago, who was curious whether religious doctors were more likely to take care of poor patients or underserved patients.
Do Religious Physicians Disproportionately Care for the Underserved?
Farr A. Curlin, MD1,2, Lydia S. Dugdale, MD3, John D. Lantos, MD2,4 and Marshall H. Chin, MD, MPH1,2
1 Department of Medicine, Section of General Internal Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill
2 MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill
3 Department of Medicine, Yale New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Conn
4 Department of Pediatrics, Section of General Pediatrics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Farr Curlin, MD Department of Medicine Section of General Internal Medicine University of Chicago 5841 S Maryland Ave Chicago, IL 60637 firstname.lastname@example.org
PURPOSE Religious traditions call their members to care for the poor and marginalized, yet no study has examined whether physicians’ religious characteristics are associated with practice among the underserved. This study examines whether physicians’ self-reported religious characteristics and sense of calling in their work are associated with practice among the underserved.
METHODS This study entailed a cross-sectional survey by mail of a stratified random sample of 2,000 practicing US physicians from all specialties.
RESULTS The response rate was 63%. Twenty-six percent of US physicians reported that their patient populations are considered underserved. Physicians who were more likely to report practice among the underserved included those who were highly spiritual (multivariate odds ratio [OR] = 1.7; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1–2.7], those who strongly agreed that their religious beliefs influenced their practice of medicine (OR = 1.6; 95% CI, 1.1–2.5), and those who strongly agreed that the family in which they were raised emphasized service to the poor (OR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0–2.7). Physicians who were more religious in general, as measured by intrinsic religiosity or frequency of attendance at religious services, were much more likely to conceive of the practice of medicine as a calling but not more likely to report practice among the underserved.
CONCLUSIONS Physicians who are more religious do not appear to disproportionately care for the underserved.