Physicians’ Religious Characteristics and Their Perceptions of the Psychological Impact of Patient Prayer and Beliefs at the End of Life: A National Survey

Kathryn Thompson, Hyo Jung Tak, Magdy El-Din, Syed Madani, Simon G. Brauer, John D. Yoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Physicians who are more religious or spiritual may report more positive perceptions regarding the link between religious beliefs/practices and patients’ psychological well-being. Methods: We conducted a secondary data analysis of a 2010 national survey of US physicians from various specialties (n = 1156). Respondents answered whether the following patient behaviors had a positive or negative effect on the psychological well-being of patients at the end of life: (1) praying frequently, (2) believing in divine judgment, and (3) expecting a miraculous healing. We also asked respondents how comfortable they are talking with patients about death. Results: Eighty-five percent of physicians believed that patients’ prayer has a positive psychological impact, 51% thought that patients’ belief in divine judgment has a positive psychological impact, and only 17% of physicians thought the same with patients’ expectation of a miraculous healing. Opinions varied based on physicians’ religious and spiritual characteristics. Furthermore, 52% of US physicians appear to feel very comfortable discussing death with patients, although end-of-life specialists, Hindu physicians, and spiritual physicians were more likely to report feeling very comfortable discussing death (adjusted odds ratio range: 1.82-3.00). Conclusion: US physicians hold divided perceptions of the psychological impact of patients’ religious beliefs/practices at the end of life, although they more are likely to believe that frequent prayer has a positive psychological impact for patients. Formal training in spiritual care may significantly improve the number of religion/spirituality conversations with patients at the end of life and help doctors understand and engage patients’ religious practices and beliefs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-122
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019



  • end of life
  • national survey
  • psychological well-being
  • religion
  • spirituality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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