Prayers in the Clinic

Top pediatric physicians respond in different ways when patients and their families conduct prayers. Some physicians participate, while others refer patients to religious resources within the hospital. The majority of Americans pray for their own health or the health of loved ones. Physicians acknowledge that religion can help patients cope with difficult illnesses. However, prayer in a clinical context raises several questions:

Do patients want physicians to pray with them? Is it appropriate for physicians to pray with patients and families?

This article presents qualitative findings from the first study of how physicians respond when patients raise the issue of prayer. The study consisted of two phases. In the first phase, researchers randomly selected faculty level pediatricians from 13 hospitals in U.S. News and World Report’s “honor roll.” These pediatricians completed surveys either by telephone or the web. The surveys asked about religious identity, beliefs, and the intersection of medicine and religion. The second phase consisted of interviews with pediatricians. The questions probed how patients raised the issue of prayer and how physicians responded.

Key Findings:

  • When patients and families raised the topic of prayer, physicians responded in one of four ways: they participated, accommodated without participating, reframed the issue in their own terms, or referred families to religious resources within the hospital.
  • Patients bring up prayer more often to pediatric oncologists than to pediatricians.

This article provides insight into how pediatric physicians respond to the issue of prayer. The authors include quotations taken from interviews with pediatricians at thirteen U.S. News and World Report “honor roll” hospitals.