Spirituality and religion in residents and inter-relationships with clinical practice and residency training: a scoping review

BMJ Open. 2021 May 28;11(5):e044321. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-044321.


Objectives: With the increased emphasis on personalised, patient-centred care, there is now greater acceptance and expectation for the physician to address issues related to spirituality and religion (SR) during clinical consultations with patients. In light of the clinical need to improve SR-related training in residency, this review sought to examine the extant literature on the attitudes of residents regarding SR during residency training, impact on clinical care and psychological well-being of residents and SR-related curriculum implemented within various residency programmes.

Design: A scoping review was conducted on studies examining the topic of SR within residency training up until July 2020 on PubMed/Medline and Web of Science databases. Keywords for the literature search included: (Spirituality OR Religion) AND (Residen* OR "Postgraduate Medicine" OR "Post-graduate Medicine" OR "Graduate Medical Education").

Results: Overall, 44 studies were included. The majority were conducted in North America (95.5%) predominantly within family medicine (29.5%), psychiatry (29.5%) and internal medicine (25%) residency programmes. While residents held positive attitudes about the role of SR and impact on patient care (such as better therapeutic relationship, treatment adherence and coping with illness), they often lacked the knowledge and skills to address these issues. Better spiritual well-being of residents was associated with greater sense of work accomplishment, overall self-rated health, decreased burnout and depressive symptoms. SR-related curricula varied from standalone workshops to continuous modules across the training years.

Conclusions: These findings suggest a need to better integrate appropriate SR-related education within residency training. Better engagement of the residents through different pedagogical strategies with supervision, feedback, reflective practice and ongoing faculty and peer support can enhance learning about SR in clinical care. Future studies should identify barriers to SR-related training and evaluate the outcomes of these SR-related curriculum including how they impact the well-being of patients and residents over time.

Keywords: Education & training (see medical education & training); medical education & training; mental health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education
  • Internship and Residency*
  • North America
  • Religion
  • Spirituality*