Most Clinicians Comfortable Praying With Patients

Marcia Frellick

August 22, 2018

Most healthcare providers and medical students answered in a Medscape poll  that they were very or somewhat comfortable with the idea of praying with or for patients.

Nurses/advanced practice nurses (APRNs) were the most open to the idea, with 88% saying they were comfortable or very comfortable with the practice. Physicians were next at 77%, followed by medical students at 73%.

Medical students and physicians were much more likely to report they were very uncomfortable with praying with or for patients (9% for both groups vs 3% for nurses/advanced practice nurses).

The gap among providers is bigger when it comes to participating in prayer with patients.  When asked how often they accept patient requests to pray with them, 87% of nurse/APRNs answered "always or frequently," but only 69% of physicians answered that way. Medical students were in the middle at 75%. Physicians were more likely to say they would never say yes (6%) vs 2% of nurses/APRNs. Three percent of medical students would never say yes.

Comments Show Division

The poll, which was published on April 25, included 428 physicians, 2385 nurses/APRNs, and 67 medical students. Comments on the poll presented a broad range of views.

A psychiatrist wrote, "I would never pray, with or without my patients."

Another commenter had a similar view: "Relationships are built on honesty, so I would never pretend to pray with a patient. They can do what they need to secure their place in heaven, I'll do what I can to keep them here on Earth."

However, a hospice nurse wrote, "Prayer is always welcome in our organization & supported in all disciplines. At the end of life, someone's faith is all they have & I feel privileged when a person/family asks me to pray with them."

Requests Not Frequent

The question doesn't come up all that often, poll respondents said. Only 12% of physicians and medical students said patients ask "always" or "frequently" that the provider join them in prayer. One in 10 nurses/APRNs answered that way.

The most common answer to the question was "rarely." Nearly half of physicians answered that way (48%), while 44% of nurses/APRNs and 37% of the medical students agreed.

Most providers (99% of nurses APRNs, 85% of physicians, and 81% of medical students) receive requests to participate in prayer from Christians, while far fewer typically receive requests from patients of other religions.

Alternatives for Those Uncomfortable

Some commenters offered alternatives for providers uncomfortable with patients' requests to pray.

A pharmacist wrote, "I do not lead a prayer yet almost always bow my head, remain silent [to] bear witness to the importance of this to the patient and family."

Another commented, "You don't have to share their beliefs. Just show your support. If the prayers are not of my faith, I stand and/or hold hands while their spiritual leader recites the prayer as I bow my head and remain silent. It's just showing that you care. Again, it's a personal decision we all need to make for ourselves."

Some qualified their answer based on the religion of the patient. A registered nurse gave this response: "If asked to be part of a Wiccan prayer, for instance, I would not be able to even participate. However, it might be possible for someone in this position to find someone else who would be comfortable with that, in the interests of meeting the patient's needs."

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