Religion, sense of calling, and the practice of medicine: findings from a national survey of primary care physicians and psychiatrists

South Med J. 2015 Mar;108(3):189-95. doi: 10.14423/SMJ.0000000000000250.


Objectives: A sense of calling is a concept with religious and theological roots; however, it is unclear whether contemporary physicians in the United States still embrace this concept in their practice of medicine. This study assesses the association between religious characteristics and endorsing a sense of calling among practicing primary care physicians (PCPs) and psychiatrists.

Methods: In 2009, we surveyed a stratified random sample of 2016 PCPs and psychiatrists in the United States. Physicians were asked whether they agreed with the statement, "For me, the practice of medicine is a calling." Primary predictors included demographic and self-reported religious characteristics, (eg, attendance, affiliation, importance of religion, intrinsic religiosity) and spirituality.

Results: Among eligible respondents, the response rate was 63% (896/1427) for PCPs and 64% (312/487) for psychiatrists. A total of 40% of PCPs and 42% of psychiatrists endorsed a strong sense of calling. PCPs and psychiatrists who were more spiritual and/or religious as assessed by all four measures were more likely to report a strong sense of calling in the practice of medicine. Nearly half of Muslim (46%) and Catholic (45%) PCPs and the majority of evangelical Protestant PCPs (60%) report a strong sense of calling in their practice, and PCPs with these affiliations were more likely to endorse a strong sense of calling than those with no affiliation (26%, bivariate P < 0.001). We found similar trends for psychiatrists.

Conclusions: In this national study of PCPs and psychiatrists, we found that PCPs who considered themselves religious were more likely to report a strong sense of calling in the practice of medicine. Although this cross-sectional study cannot be used to make definitive causal inferences between religion and developing a strong sense of calling, PCPs who considered themselves religious are more likely to embrace the concept of calling in their practice of medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Career Choice*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Primary Care / psychology*
  • Psychiatry*
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Self Report
  • Spirituality
  • United States