The Spiritual and Religious Identities, Beliefs, and Practices of Academic Pediatricians in the United States

Catlin, Elizabeth Ann MD; Cadge, Wendy PhD; Ecklund, Elaine Howard PhD; Gage, Elizabeth A. PhD; Zollfrank, Angelika Annette MDiv

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31818c64a5
Spirituality in Medicine

Purpose: Physicians’ spiritual and religious identities, beliefs, and practices are beginning to be explored. The objective of this study was to gather descriptive information about personal religion and spirituality from a random sample of academic American pediatricians and to compare this information with similar data from the public.

Method: In 2005, a Web-based survey of a random sample of 208 pediatrician faculty from 13 academic centers ranked by the US News & World Report as “honor roll” hospitals was conducted. Surveys elicited information about personal beliefs and practices as well as their influence on decisions about patient care and clinical practice. Multiple questions were replicated from the General Social Survey to enable comparisons with the public. Descriptive statistics were generated, and logistic regression analyses were conducted on relevant variables.

Results: Nearly 88% of respondents were raised in a religious tradition, but just 67.2% claimed current religious identification. More than half (52.6%) reported praying privately; additional spiritual practices reported included relaxation techniques (38.8%), meditation (29.3%), sacred readings (26.7%), and yoga (19%). The majority of academic pediatricians (58.6%) believed that personal spiritual or religious beliefs influenced their interactions with patients/colleagues. These odds increased 5.1-fold when academic pediatricians attended religious services monthly or more (P < .05).

Conclusions: Compared with the American public, a notably smaller proportion of academic pediatricians reported a personal religious identity. The majority believed spiritual and religious beliefs influenced their practice of pediatrics. Whether secular or faith-based belief systems measurably modify academic pediatric practice is unknown.

Author Information

Dr. Catlin is pediatrician, Neonatology Unit, Pediatric Service, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Boston, Massachusetts, and associate professor of pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Cadge is assistant professor, Department of Sociology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Dr. Ecklund is assistant professor, Department of Sociology, Rice University, Houston, Texas.

Dr. Gage is postdoctoral associate, Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York.

Rev. Zollfrank is director of clinical pastoral education, certified chaplain, and pastoral supervisor, Chaplaincy Department, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Please see the end of this article for information about the authors.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Catlin, Massachusetts General Hospital, 175 Cambridge St., Suite 516, Boston, MA 02114; telephone: (617) 724-9040; fax: (617) 724-9346; e-mail: (

Editor’s Note: A commentary on this article appears on page 1118–1120.

© 2008 Association of American Medical Colleges