Psychiatrists Least Religious among Physicians

Practice faith

In 2003, Curlin and his colleagues surveyed 1,820 practicing physicians, from which 1,144 physicians responded, including 100 psychiatrists. The survey contained questions about medical specialties, and various aspects of religion. That data has now been analyzed. Whereas 61 percent of other physicians reported Protestant or Catholic affiliation, just 37 percent of psychiatrists were associated with the two religions. Nearly 30 percent of psychiatrists were of Jewish denomination compared with 13 percent of other physicians. A total of 17 percent of psychiatrists reported “none” for religion compared with 10 percent of other doctors.

Participants also responded to a hypothetical scenario involving a mentally-disturbed patient, saying whether they would refer the patient to a: psychiatrist/psychologist, clergy member/religious counselor, healthcare chaplain, or other. Overall, more than half of other physicians would refer a patient to a psychiatrist/psychologist. A further 25 percent would refer to a clergy member/religious counselor. Only 7 percent would refer to a healthcare chaplain, and 12 percent would refer to someone else.

Doctor’s diagnosis

The authors note just because a doctor chooses to refer a patient to a clergy member, however, does not equate with an unwillingness to refer patients to psychiatrists. However, the religious beliefs of doctors could be an important factor, they say, for patients’ mental healthcare. “Because psychiatrists take care of patients struggling with emotional, personal and relational problems,” Curlin said, “the gap between the religiousness of the average psychiatrist and her average patient may make it difficult for them to connect on a human level.” Whether a gap between patients and doctors exists was not examined.

Curlin’s study on physician religious beliefs was funded by the Greenwall Foundation, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program.