Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Empathy and Attending to Patient Religion/Spirituality: Findings from a National Survey of Muslim Physicians

Attending to patient religion and spirituality (R/S) generates controversy. Some worry that because physicians lack formal religious training they may overstep their expertise, while others argue that physicians who are attentive to patient R/S provide higher quality of care. We aimed to describe American Muslim physicians’ perspectives and practices regarding R/S discussions, and how physician characteristics correlate with these. A questionnaire including measures of religiosity, empathy, and attitudes and behaviors toward R/S, was randomly administered to Islamic Medical Association of North America members. More empathetic physicians were more likely to inquire about patients’ R/S, share their own religious ideas and experiences, and encourage patients in their own R/S beliefs and practices (β = .44, p < .01). More empathetic physicians also had greater odds of encouraging discontinuation of futile life-sustaining interventions (OR 1.90, p < .05). Additionally, respondents with higher empathy had greater odds of encouraging patients at the end-of-life to seek reconciliation with God (OR 3.27, p < .001), and seek the forgiveness of those they have wronged (OR 2.48, p < .001). In the context of R/S diversity among the patient and provider population, enhancing physician empathy may be key to attending to the health-related R/S needs of patients.