Researchers say that U.S. physicians who identify themselves as religious are no more likely to care for less well-off patients than those who have no religious affiliation.
"Religious physicians are not disproportionately caring for the underserved," says lead researcher Dr. Farr Curlin, of the University of Chicago. Curlin, who considers himself religious, says he undertook the study because many religions include a call to serve the poor.
"I was curious about whether doctors who are more formed in their religious beliefs are more likely to take care of patients who are poor," said Curlin, whose study is published in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Curlin and colleagues at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut mailed surveys to 1,820 practicing doctors. Of those, 63 percent responded.
The researchers marked "intrinsic religiosity" according to how physicians answered questions about the role of religion as a motive in their lives.
Physicians also answered questions about how frequently they attended religious services, the extent they considered themselves to be spiritual, and whether they believed the practice of medicine was a calling.
What the researchers found was that physicians who were deemed more religious as shown by intrinsic religiosity or frequency of attendance of religious services, were not more likely to report caring for underserved patient populations (those that tended to be poor, uninsured or on Medicaid, the federal program for the poor.)
Says Curlin:"It suggests, I think, that when doctors are making the connection between being people of faith and the practice of medicine, that connection does not seem to lead them ... to an added commitment to caring for the underserved".