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Doctors recognize the healing power of spirituality

October 27, 2009 |  6:00 am

When physicians treat their patients, they can write prescriptions, recommend surgery, order physical therapy – or call upon the services of a professional chaplain.

Chaplain According to a survey reported today in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 89% of physicians who took part in a nationwide poll said they had worked with a chaplain. Of those doctors, 90% said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the ministers, priests, rabbis and other clergymen.

Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that physicians who had training in religion and spirituality were more likely to put their patients in touch with a chaplain. So were doctors who treated lots of patients who were critically ill or who worked in the fields of psychiatry or obstetrics and gynecology.

Not surprisingly, the doctors’ own views about religion and spirituality played a role. Those who believed that belief in a higher power could be helpful to patients were more likely to reach out to chaplains, as were doctors who felt comfortable discussing religion with patients directly, the survey found.

Support for chaplains was geographically widespread. Among the 1,102 physicians whose responses were tabulated, only those from the Northeast were less likely to appreciate chaplains.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Doctors appreciate the role that chaplains play in their patients’ lives, according to a new survey. Credit: Nicholas Roberts / For The Times