Background: Patients' religious commitments and religious communities are known to influence their experiences of illness and their medical decisions. Physicians are also dynamic partners in the doctor-patient relationship, yet little is known about the religious characteristics of physicians or how physicians' religious commitments shape the clinical encounter.
Objective: To provide a baseline description of physicians' religious characteristics, and to compare physicians' characteristics with those of the general U.S. population.
Design/participants: Mailed survey of a stratified random sample of 2,000 practicing U.S. physicians. Comparable U.S. population data are derived from the 1998 General Social Survey.
Measurements/results: The response rate was 63%. Fifty-five percent of physicians say their religious beliefs influence their practice of medicine. Compared with the general population, physicians are more likely to be affiliated with religions that are underrepresented in the United States, less likely to say they try to carry their religious beliefs over into all other dealings in life (58% vs 73%), twice as likely to consider themselves spiritual but not religious (20% vs 9%), and twice as likely to cope with major problems in life without relying on God (61% vs 29%).
Conclusions: Physicians' religious characteristics are diverse and they differ in many ways from those of the general population. Researchers, medical educators, and policy makers should further examine the ways in which physicians' religious commitments shape their clinical engagements.