- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

From combined dispatches

CHICAGO — Most doctors believe in God and an afterlife, according to a study released yesterday that contradicts earlier research showing people tend to become less religious as education and income levels rise.

In the survey of 1,044 doctors nationwide, 76 percent said they believe in God, 59 percent said they believe in some sort of afterlife, and 55 percent said their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.

“We did not think physicians were nearly this religious,” said Dr. Farr Curlin, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.

“We suspect that people who combine an aptitude for science with an interest in religion and an affinity for public service are particularly attracted to medicine,” Dr. Curlin said.

“There’s certainly a deep-seated cultural idea that science and religion are at odds,” and previous studies have suggested that fewer than half of scientists believe in God, Dr. Curlin added.

The report, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, also found that 90 percent of doctors said they attend religious services at least occasionally.

“Physicians are more likely to describe themselves as ‘spiritual’ as distinct from religious, whereas for the general population, spirituality and religion appear to be more tightly connected,” the study says.

The study is based on responses to questionnaires mailed in 2003. A previous survey showed about 83 percent of the general population believes in God.

Dr. J. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, said religion and medicine are completely compatible, as long as doctors do not force their own beliefs on patients.

Belief in “a supreme being … is vitally important to physicians’ ability to take care of patients, particularly the end-of-life issues that we deal with so often,” said Dr. Hill, a family physician from Tupelo, Miss.

The study says doctors and patients are also likely to differ on relying upon God for help in coping with a major illness.

“While most patients will ‘look to God for strength, support and guidance,’ most physicians will instead try to ‘make sense of the situation and decide what to do without relying on God,’” it said.

Religions among physicians are more varied than among the general population, the survey found. Although more than 80 percent of the U.S. population is Protestant or Catholic, 60 percent of doctors said they fall into those categories.

Compared with the general population, more doctors were Jewish — 14 percent vs. 2 percent; Hindu — 5 percent vs. less than 1 percent; and Muslim — almost 3 percent vs. less than 1 percent.

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