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A dose of God may help medicine

Waltham, MAFor some families, the cancer diagnosis of a child strengthens existing religious ties or prompts new ones. Now, a new study by researchers at Brandeis University and the University at Buffalo - SUNY in Pediatric Hematology and Oncology reports that while most pediatric 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 childs 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.

The study surveyed 74 pediatric hematologists and oncologists at 13 elite hospitals from the U.S. News & World Report ranking of honor roll hospitals. The findings include:

  • 93.3 percent of the physicians surveyed were raised in a religious tradition; 31 percent Protestant; 25.7 percent Catholic; 25.7 Jewish, and 10.8 percent other.
  • The majority reported that religion was very important (25.7 percent) or somewhat important (48.6 percent) in their family when they were growing up.
  • 24.3 percent of the physicians said they were Jewish; 20.3 percent said they had no current religious affiliation; 17 percent were Catholic; 17 percent were Protestant; almost 15 percent identified with another religion.
  • 47.3 percent described themselves as very or moderately spiritual; 37.8 percent described themselves as slightly spiritual; 13.5 percent described themselves as not at all spiritual.

More than half of the respondents said their spiritual or religious beliefs influence to some extent their interactions with families, patients, and colleagues, while almost 40 percent believed they did not.

Research shows that many patients do not feel the medical system adequately meets their spiritual needs, said Cadge. 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.


Contact: Laura Gardner
Brandeis University

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