Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

An Interview with Dr. Blase Polite

Blase Polite, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical school. He is board certified in internal medicine and medical oncology. Dr. Polite and his team recently published  “Associations of externalizing religious and spiritual beliefs on stage of colon cancer diagnosis among black and white multicenter urban patient populations” in Cancer. Tim Usset, a Transforming Chaplaincy Fellow and Chaplain with the Minnesota VA, interviewed Dr. Polite:

How did you become interested in studying religion and spirituality in cancer research?

I did not go looking for the concepts of religion and spirituality, and initially would not have expected to go this direction in my academic work. My initial interest was in health disparities and what would keep people from seeking screening or therapy for cancer. From that lens, I noticed the impact of externalizing religious beliefs, particularly in the black community. This led to my collaboration with George Fitchett on this study.

Could you tell us more about the findings in your recent study?

We expected there to be differences on the God Locus of Health Control (GLHC) scale between blacks and whites. We also thought there would be a true interaction effect: not only were there going to be higher rates, but that it was going to play into decision making more with black patients than white patients. To show interaction we would need to show that the GLHC plays out differently among blacks and whites. We found that was not the case; the beliefs dominated the outcome. Among either race, people with higher scores on the GLHC had greater odds of having advanced stage colon cancer when they presented for screening.

What are some next steps in light of these findings?

Patients are not necessarily looking for a physician or health system to share the same beliefs. What people are looking for is a system that acknowledges, respects, and creates an open space for them to express their feelings and beliefs. This goes a long way toward creating trust and dispelling some of the barriers that exists between patients with high religiosity and the healthcare team.

Chaplains can’t be everywhere. We need to start thinking more broadly about spiritual comfort and focus into the medical setting. Screening for belief systems, spiritual distress, and religiosity at intake the same way we do finances or social support is one way to do this. Another is to educate members of the care team to acknowledge patient’s belief systems. We have a grant starting this fall where we will train nurses administering chemotherapy to do that and will see how it goes!

Thank you for your time, and contribution to the field, Dr. Polite!




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