In an opinion piece at The Christian Science Monitor, sociologist Wendy Cadge shares findings from her research (with Elaine Howard Ecklund) on how physicians learn about and deal with their patients’ spiritual and religious beliefs. She concludes that a “holistic approach to medicine requires physicians to understand the complex role of spirituality and religion in compassionate patient care. The best prescription: Integrate these topics throughout medical education”:

Of the 30 academic pediatricians and pediatric oncologists we interviewed, few learned about spiritual or religious issues they might encounter in patient care during their formal medical education.

About a third spoke informally with colleagues about issues of religion during training. Some reported taking steps on their own to get to know hospital chaplains and talk with them about death and dying, family decisionmaking, and how to respond to patients and families who are very religious – especially Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox Jews.

Almost none of the physicians we interviewed learned how to respond to religion and spirituality as they often learn other skills – by observing how senior physicians model them.

In another recent national study of physicians, University of Chicago physician Farr Curlin found that only a quarter of the physicians surveyed reported having received any formal training at the intersection of spirituality, religion, and medicine.

This may be changing, however, as a growing number of medical schools – many with the support of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health (GWish) – started offering courses about spirituality and religion during the past 20 years. These courses try to prepare students to engage in a broad range of conversations about spirituality and religion. Individual courses vary significantly, however, leading GWish to collaborate with medical schools to develop six core competencies in spiritual and health education and to design a uniform way to measure and evaluate them.

Read the full piece here.