Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Religious beliefs of American physicians

Here is a study that shows that psychiatrists are the least religious of American physicians. However, its not as dramatic as the news headline makes it appear.
Psychiatrists are more likely to be Jewish or have no religious affiliation than U.S. doctors overall and less likely to be Protestant or Roman Catholic Christians, said the study, published on Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services.
In terms of percentages, only 10% of all doctors and 17% of psychiatrists say that they are not affiliated with any religion. On the other hand, 31% of all college professors have no religious affiliation (this is a pdf file of the paper on beliefs of college professors by Gross & Simmons).

So what's the big deal about psychiatrists being the least religious amongst doctors? I'm really not sure. But here are some speculations by the lead investigator of the study:

Dr. Farr Curlin, a University of Chicago medical professor who led the study, said research by the American Psychiatric Association in 1975 saw similar patterns among psychiatrists.

"There still seems to be something about the field to lead doctors who are religious to be less likely to go into it," Curlin said in a telephone interview.

Anti-religious views expressed by some early figures in the field, including Sigmund Freud, may play a role in driving religious medical students from psychiatry, he said.

And does Dr. Curlin have a similar explanation for college professors? I think he is making a big deal out of this slight difference. Some of the reasons are probably true but then, so what? Furthermore, I'm not sure what to make of the over-representation of Jewish psychiatrists. A more troubling (perhaps?) result is this:

The survey asked the doctors to whom they would refer a patient with continued deep grieving two months after his wife's death. More religious doctors were less likely to send patients to psychiatrists and more inclined to send them to a member of the clergy or religious counselor, the survey found.

Overall, 56 percent of doctors said they would send him to a psychiatrist or psychologist, 25 percent to a member of the clergy and 7 percent to a health care chaplain.

Protestant doctors were half as likely as those with no religious affiliation to send a patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist, the survey found.

Hmm...let me quickly check the affiliation of my doctor.