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Research through the HUP Department
of Pastoral Care and Education

The HUP Department od Pastoral Care and Education has long been involved with research, and in 1998 was awarded "Research Center of the Year" by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. That award acknowledged the Department's work on particular projects, its integration of research into the CPE curriculum, and its use of research in a variety of programs with the hospital and the School of Medicine. The Department actively participates in -- and contributes a leadership role to -- the Research Network of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. Moreover, our regular Interest Group on Spirituality, Religion, and Health, which draws persons from throughout the hospital, University and community, often highlights research-based topics.

The Department's original study, "Do Patients Want Physicians to Inquire about Their Spiritual/Religious Beliefs If They Become Gravely Ill?" published in The Archives of Internal Medicine [159(15):1803-6], has been cited over 400 times in the articles and books of the healthcare literature. That IRB-approved project developed a validated instrument to survey a consecutive sample of adult pulmonary patients at a faculty practice at the University of Pennsylvania. One-hundred-seventy-seven patients participated (83% response rate). Among the findings:

A total of 66% of patients reported that they would particularly welcome a physician's inquiry about whether they had any religious/spiritual beliefs that would influence their medical decisions if they became gravely ill (and 16% said they would not), though only 45% of participants said they that actually held such beliefs. Self-reported religiosity did not predict patients' interest in a physician's inquiry, and nearly half of patients who denied having religious/spiritual beliefs that would influence their decisions still said that a physician should ask. These results differ from earlier studies, perhaps because the present research conceptually revolved around a carefully worded question: "Do you have religious or spiritual beliefs that would influence your medical decisions?" which implicitly conveys the medical reason for the inquiry and a sense of boundaries for any subsequent discussion (indicating only the physician's openness to this relevant patient information and not that the physician's role would extend to religious counseling); and it provides patients with a quick and unrevealing avenue of exit, if so desired. In addition, 66% of patients said that such a question would increase their trust in a physician (while 17% said it would not). Only 15% of the sample recalled having ever been asked about religious/spiritual beliefs by a physician.

The field of spirituality & health research has grown enormously in recent years, revealing significant relationships between religion/spirituality and physical and mental health. Thousands of articles referencing religion or spirituality are added to the Medline/National Library of Medicine database each year (and for an annual selection, see our Department's bibliography index. Penn Medicine staff are invited to consult with our Department about research projects and interests. Contact Chaplain John Ehman at 215-662-8849 or