Spiritually Inclined Doctors may Help Build Bridges With Families of Sick Kids

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 15 2007 6:38 PM

Giving physicians a little training in religion and spirituality could help them build bridges with the families of very sick children, a new study has suggested. The finding is based on a survey of 74 pediatric hematologists and oncologists at 13 elite hospitals from the U.S. News & World Report ranking of "honor roll hospitals."

The survey was conducted by researchers at Brandeis University and the University at Buffalo. It found that 47.3 percent of paediatric oncologists describe themselves as very or moderately spiritual, and 37.8 percent describe themselves as slightly spiritual.

However, what was also noted that while most oncologists say they are spiritual, and many are open to connecting with the families of very sick children through religion or spirituality, they typically lack the formal healthcare training that could help them build such bridges.

"Increasingly, religion and spirituality are being recognized as important in the care of critically ill patients and we know that many parents draw on such resources to cope with their child's illness," said coauthor Wendy Cadge, a Brandeis sociologist.

"This study suggests that we should consider training to help physicians relate spiritually to families confronting life-threatening illness such as cancer."

More than half of the respondents said their spiritual or religious beliefs influence to some extent their interactions with families, patients, and colleagues.

"Research shows that many patients do not feel the medical system adequately meets their spiritual needs. By shedding light on how religion and spirituality connect to the practice of medicine, this study is a first step toward addressing such needs of patients and their families during a profoundly threatening chapter of life," said Cadge.

The study appears in the journal Pediatric Hematology and Oncology.