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Most U.S. Doctors Religious, Survey Finds

Their attendance at worship outstrips that of general population

MONDAY, June 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Most American doctors have religious beliefs, a new study finds.

Three-quarters say they believe in God, and 90 percent say they attend religious services at least occasionally -- a number exceeding that found in the general population.

"We did not think physicians were nearly this religious," study author Dr. Farr Curlin, instructor, department of medicine and a member of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, said in a prepared statement.

Previous studies have shown that religiosity tends to fall as a person's education and income levels increase. In addition, about 90 years of previous studies showed that only a minority of scientists (excluding doctors) believes in God or an afterlife.

But a closer look at the practice of medicine may explain the finding, Curlin added.

"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," Curlin said. "The responsibility to care for those who are suffering, and the rewards of helping those in need, resonate throughout most religious traditions."

The survey of about 1,260 U.S. doctors found that: 76 percent believe in God; 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife; 90 percent attend religious services at least occasionally (compared to 81 percent of the general population); and 55 percent say their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.

The study found the religious beliefs of doctors often differ from those of their patients. While 80 percent of patients describe themselves as either Protestant or Catholic, only 60 percent of doctors come from either of those faiths.

Doctors are 26 times more likely to be Hindu than the overall U.S. population -- 5.3 percent of doctors vs. 0.2 percent of the general population. The study also found that doctors are seven times more likely to be Jewish, six times more likely to be Buddhist and five times more likely to be Muslim than the general population.

The findings appear in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has information about prayer and spirituality in health.

SOURCE: University of Chicago Medical Center, news release, June 22, 2005
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