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Praying with Patients


mockingbird

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Here I was, perusing what I thought to be a normal medical blog on tumblr, and came across this:

wayfaringmd.tumblr.com/tagged/prayer

I'm not sure if she's fundy, but she seems to be conservative Christian. She also feels "called" to do Christian medical missions because Jesus healed when he preached.

I know we've talked about issues with missionaries and tying practical help to evangelizing, and I also think medical missions (in general) can be problematic in that they are sometimes just a stop-gap solution and it could be better to offer a more permanent solution. But the prayer thing bothered me. I don't know if this is a Bible belt thing or what.

I have two problems with this. The first is the more personal side. Although I love to learn about different religions and traditions, I don't talk about my beliefs often IRL, religion is just a more private/personal thing for me. I don't like touchy-feely stuff especially when I am sick or emotionally vulnerable and I am a private person. I have been approached by chaplains before and the idea of someone I don't know praying with/for me just makes me really uncomfortable. They don't know my style and they don't know anything about me personally so it feels intrusive rather than helpful. The only type of religious support I would want in a hospital would be someone of my faith tradition AT MY REQUEST. I imagine lots of people feel this way about religion and prayer, even if they are the same religion as their doctor.

Secondly, on a bigger level, I just don't think it's appropriate for a doctor to begin the prayer conversation. Part of our honor code at medical school is to not use our profession to advance personal causes. I would see religion as a personal cause. We are also expected to practice "cultural competency", basically, respect your patients' beliefs, traditions, values, etc. instead of pushing your own. As a patient I am pretty friendly with some of my doctors and I would feel comfortable confiding in them about challenges I might be facing with a certain health problem. However, I think it would be more appropriate for a doctor to offer secular advice or just a listening, empathetic ear rather than offering spiritual guidance. I don't think that is the doctor's place and if you wanted that you could go to a religious leader. If the patient asked if a doctor would pray with them, I don't think that is inappropriate though, if the doctor feels comfortable, because you wouldn't be pushing anything on the patient and would be taking their lead. I do think doctors can play a role in being there for their patients emotionally but just keep religion out of it unless the patient brings it up or you could make things uncomfortable or awkward. I think it's good that she asks first and respects their answer but I still think it would be better to wait for the patient to bring it up.

Thoughts?

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I agree. I she offers prayer after birth? Really? If my doc asked me to pray after delivering a baby I think I'd have to tell them to fuck off. I'm busy getting to know my baby right now, thankyouverymuch.

I can see how praying with your doctor might be helpful for some people, but I think her approach needs to improve. Instead of "Can I pray with you?" she could say "Some patients find that their faith traditions support them in challenging times. Is this something you feel would benefit you? Yes? As a Christian, I also feel that prayer guides me through challenges. Would you like to say a prayer together and ask for guidance and support through this time, or can I help connect you with a leader in your faith?" I think for a religious (Christian) person, this might be nice coming from your doctor, if you feel that God is helping you work together as a team to overcome your illness. And, if you're not religious, it's easy enough to say "No, I don't feel faith would help me right now" and it shuts down the conversation quickly and without pressure/proselytizing. It also takes into consideration that some people have a faith tradition that is (GASP!) not Christian.

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I wouldn't consider it a problem as long as the prayer request is initiated by the patient and not the medical pratitioner. On the other hand, a patient asking their doctor/nurse to pray with them might make the pratitioner uncomfortable if they are not of the same religion as the patient or are an atheist.

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I agree. I she offers prayer after birth? Really? If my doc asked me to pray after delivering a baby I think I'd have to tell them to fuck off. I'm busy getting to know my baby right now, thankyouverymuch.

I can see how praying with your doctor might be helpful for some people, but I think her approach needs to improve. Instead of "Can I pray with you?" she could say "Some patients find that their faith traditions support them in challenging times. Is this something you feel would benefit you? Yes? As a Christian, I also feel that prayer guides me through challenges. Would you like to say a prayer together and ask for guidance and support through this time, or can I help connect you with a leader in your faith?" I think for a religious (Christian) person, this might be nice coming from your doctor, if you feel that God is helping you work together as a team to overcome your illness. And, if you're not religious, it's easy enough to say "No, I don't feel faith would help me right now" and it shuts down the conversation quickly and without pressure/proselytizing. It also takes into consideration that some people have a faith tradition that is (GASP!) not Christian.

If I had had to do an emergency c-section, the dr who would have delivered my child (the OB back up for my midwives) was Jewish and knew I was too. Had that happened and she offered to say a Jewish prayer for me, I"d have been all over that, HOWEVER, its one of those, she knew i'm the same faith as her. If a Christian Dr were to start praying a christian prayer over me, I'd get REALLY upset over it.

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I wouldn't consider it a problem as long as the prayer request is initiated by the patient and not the medical pratitioner. On the other hand, a patient asking their doctor/nurse to pray with them might make the pratitioner uncomfortable if they are not of the same religion as the patient or are an atheist.

I agree that a patient's request might make the medical practioner uncomfortable, in addition, many doctors just don't have the time to spare to fully address both the medical and spiritual needs of a patient. Don't most medical facilities have the nurse or doctor offer patients the option to have someone contact a minister, rabbi or spiritual leader of the patient's choice on their behalf to help comfort them with spiritual matters?

(edited to show that I know how to use apostrophes correctly....)

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I wouldn't consider it a problem as long as the prayer request is initiated by the patient and not the medical pratitioner. On the other hand, a patient asking their doctor/nurse to pray with them might make the pratitioner uncomfortable if they are not of the same religion as the patient or are an atheist.

I agree it could make the doctor uncomfortable, but you don't really have control over what patients might ask the same way you have professional standards for what a doctor is and isn't allowed to do so I could see the situation possibly coming up. I think it would be fine to say you don't feel comfortable doing so but offer a referral to a chaplain/religious leader.

And yes, most hospitals should have chaplains, so I think that would probably be a more appropriate way to handle it as a doctor. (Plus, I agree that doctors don't have a lot of extra time so it might be a better experience, because helping you out spiritually is the chaplain's JOB so they can devote more time to your concerns.) Linnea27, I think your approach is much better because you are only asking after they have demonstrated interest (said yes to the question about whether they would find faith helpful), and you are offering the chaplain/religious leader as an extra or alternative resource so there's less pressure to have to pray with the doctor if you don't want to.

I can see your point too tchotchkes - if you know a patient and have talked about religion before in some capacity (like enough to know you are the same religion) it might seem more appropriate in that specific situation compared to just a random new patient.

edited b/c wrong word

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I think that there are times that when a patient and doctor share a faith that it can be very helpful for physicians to pray with patients. I work at a denominational hospital and prayer with our patients is certainly permissible -- most doctors and nurses are very respectful about the faith of non-christian patients. I had LASIK here and although I probably wouldn't personally have prayed with my doctor before the procedure, when he offered I had no problem with it. The mission of our institution is VERY clearly based in Christianity, and posted EVERYWHERE.

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Couple of thoughts...

My parents are Christian doctors. They did family practice, mainly in rural and low income communities. Mostly had very "country doctor" type practices. And as such they tended to get to know their patients very well and develop relationships with them. Friends and people they already knew would come to their office specifically to see them. Very different from the huge urban hospital-associated pediatrician my kids see now.

So my parents were always willing to offer prayer with/for patients. It was not standard practice, lol. But it was an option that kind of grew organically out of their established relationships with patients--they knew who the patients were, the patients knew them.

In another situation, the midwives we use ask patients to let them know of any specific religious or spiritual needs or desires etc in the introductory forms packet that they give to new patients. You're not required to. And if you don't put anything there, it won't be brought up. But it gives patients who want prayer, or who have specific needs related to their religion or spirituality a way to open that door and initiate, if they desire to.

And a third place--I have gone to a clinic that was specifically Christian based. It was a sliding-scale deal, and we had just moved, were broke, dh was unemployed, and I was miscarrying. It was not an in-your-face evangelism thing. Their primary goal was providing medical care for the poor. They did specify the faith-based nature of their organization in the paperwork, however, and that spiritual support/prayer was available but not in any way required to get treatment. And I found that to be true.

edited for spelling

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It would make me uncomfortable if a doctor offered to pray for/with me if I had not previously indicated that religion and prayer were important to me, and I'd probably go as far and complain about any doctor/nurse who did so. I do not want other people's religion pushed on me. Of course, they mean no harm, but "meaning to do good" is in some ways the opposite of "good".

But I think it is perfectly fine if medical staff offers to pray AFTER the patient has already indicated that it's important to him. If your patient is a nun, there's a good chance she won't offended by prayers, will she? Or in rural areas, where people know each other and also if they're religious, this is probably a good idea.

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Guest Anonymous
I agree. I she offers prayer after birth? Really? If my doc asked me to pray after delivering a baby I think I'd have to tell them to fuck off. I'm busy getting to know my baby right now, thankyouverymuch.

I can see how praying with your doctor might be helpful for some people, but I think her approach needs to improve. Instead of "Can I pray with you?" she could say "Some patients find that their faith traditions support them in challenging times. Is this something you feel would benefit you? Yes? As a Christian, I also feel that prayer guides me through challenges. Would you like to say a prayer together and ask for guidance and support through this time, or can I help connect you with a leader in your faith?" I think for a religious (Christian) person, this might be nice coming from your doctor, if you feel that God is helping you work together as a team to overcome your illness. And, if you're not religious, it's easy enough to say "No, I don't feel faith would help me right now" and it shuts down the conversation quickly and without pressure/proselytizing. It also takes into consideration that some people have a faith tradition that is (GASP!) not Christian.

I'd feel deeply uncomfortable being offered prayer by a medic. There is a clear imbalance of power in the relationship and I think many people find it hard enough to shut down conversations with evangelists on the street, let alone with an authority figure at their bedside.

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I've suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my life and have been to various doctors. I'm young (20), and up until a year a go I still went to my family doctor that my parents chose when I was around 8. My parents have discussed their Christianity openly with my doctor who is also a christian. I am not.

I was home schooled and never interacted with children my age until I went to high school at 14. I was terrified, socially awkward and was bullied constantly for not knowing how to interact with people. It was hell. I started have panic attacks regularly, was depressed, and was so anxious that I ate lunch in the restroom and hid there during breaks. After suffering serious thoughts of suicide when I was 16, I begged my parents to take me to the doctor for help. They didn't want to at first because they believed my problems would be solved by turning to god and that I was upset with life because I rejected him. They finally let me go when my grades started slipping and I nearly killed myself taking my dads oxycodone.

I remember the first thing my doctor told me was that I should get involved in my parent's church and pray. I can't tell you how pissed off I was at her. I informed her that I wasn't a christian, but because she and my parents were close, she ignored this. I left with a referral to a social worker. No assessment, no medication, no referral to a therapist. I was simply a sinner in her eyes.

I don't think it is appropriate for doctors to bring religion into their work unless the patient requests it, and even then, it seems kind of iffy. If I were offered prayer from a physician today I would walk out immediately and demand my co-pay back.

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Guest Anonymous

I would be so terrified if a medical professional offered to pray for me. I don't believe in God and so any offer of prayer would be the equivalent saying 'This procedure should be fine, but knock on wood, eh?' or 'Fingers crossed'. I don't want to trust in a God that I don't believe exists, I want to trust in a competent medical staff. If even they are relying on supernatural bullshit then what chance do I have?

Riffles

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I agree it could make the doctor uncomfortable, but you don't really have control over what patients might ask the same way you have professional standards for what a doctor is and isn't allowed to do so I could see the situation possibly coming up. I think it would be fine to say you don't feel comfortable doing so but offer a referral to a chaplain/religious leader.

And yes, most hospitals should have chaplains, so I think that would probably be a more appropriate way to handle it as a doctor. (Plus, I agree that doctors don't have a lot of extra time so it might be a better experience, because helping you out spiritually is the chaplain's JOB so they can devote more time to your concerns.) Linnea27, I think your approach is much better because you are only asking after they have demonstrated interest (said yes to the question about whether they would find faith helpful), and you are offering the chaplain/religious leader as an extra or alternative resource so there's less pressure to have to pray with the doctor if you don't want to.

I can see your point too tchotchkes - if you know a patient and have talked about religion before in some capacity (like enough to know you are the same religion) it might seem more appropriate in that specific situation compared to just a random new patient.

edited b/c wrong word

I think I agree with all of this. I am a Christian but I think usually, a referral to the hospital chaplain would be more appropriate unless the doctor or nurse knew the patient quite well. I don't think a medical professional should ever initiate a conversation about religion, period.

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I would think most hospitals and clinics have at least visiting chaplains. Why not depend on those specialists when it comes to prayer. Let the medical professionals do what they are trained to do,

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When I was working in Michigan in a hospital day surgery center the anesthesiologist and a few of the nurses were so called born again Christians. They prayed over patients as they were putting them to sleep. I let it be known I thought this was wrong. If a patient requested a prayer that would be one thing but this was not patient initiated. I was in charge of the recovery room. One day the patient was the wife of the lieutenant governor, who learned of this practice. He asked me if it was true, I said yes it was. I had never participated in the practice. He wrote a letter to the hospital administrator threatening legal action if the practice didn't stop. It stopped.

I have never had a doctor ask me if I wanted them to pray with me or over me. It would make me very uncomfortable.

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I am in a small city with a shortage of medical providers. We know our doctors in a way that many people don't. It is not unusual at all in my area to have bought peaches from your doctor's wife, talked to his kids at Costco when you bumped into them while shopping, sat next to him at children's sporting events, hear gossip about his life events, etc. There is a huge intersection between the professional and personal in underserved areas and I think it is actually a really cool thing.

So, my medical providers are not just people I see for illness and preventative care; they are people in my neighborhood just like the Sesame Street song. And I would still be very uncomfortable with having them initiate prayer. I feel like, despite the web of personal interaction in a community like mine, there is still this professional barrier. I am not the person with the power in this relationship, if that makes sense. Maybe I am too acutely aware of power differentials because I have spent most of my life on the wrong side of them, but I am edgy about people using their power in a questionable way.

I don't think this practice is always wrong, but it is often wrong, and always questionable.

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I would be so terrified if a medical professional offered to pray for me. I don't believe in God and so any offer of prayer would be the equivalent saying 'This procedure should be fine, but knock on wood, eh?' or 'Fingers crossed'. I don't want to trust in a God that I don't believe exists, I want to trust in a competent medical staff. If even they are relying on supernatural bullshit then what chance do I have?

My experience has not been like this. Not "Oh Lord, if I screw up, just heal the person" or something. That would be disconcerting coming from a doctor. IME it's been more like a means for comfort and encouragement. Shouldn't be doctor initiated, still but if the relationship is such that prayer would be welcome, then I see no problem with it.

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I've worked in Canadian hospitals, Catholic and non-religious. I've prayed with patients in both at their request but never with someone who did not request it. No. Just a BIG NO.

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When I was expecting my first, I had a Jewish OB. Early on, he asked if he could pray a blessing over the baby at the end of each check-up. I am a conservative Christian, and my husband was in seminary at the time, and the OB knew this, so maybe he thought we would be accepting of prayer? He would pray in Hebrew, and then tell me in English what he had prayed.

I did not mind, and said sure, but in retrospect, it seems an unusual, and potentially problematic, request by a physician. I wonder if he asked all his patients... Honestly, though, after our child as born with complications and went to the NICU with my husband, I was grateful that he said a prayer and then asked if I would like the chaplain to come up to be with me.

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3 years ago a nurse at the coronary cath. suite handed me a Gideon Bible while I waited for my (soon to be ex) husband. As soon as she left, I grabbed my ever present sharpie and defaced the book by writing "Support Marriage Equality" on the inside covers and across most of Leviticus. Had she offered to prey on me I possibly would have used the sharpie on her.

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3 years ago a nurse at the coronary cath. suite handed me a Gideon Bible while I waited for my (soon to be ex) husband. As soon as she left, I grabbed my ever present sharpie and defaced the book by writing "Support Marriage Equality" on the inside covers and across most of Leviticus. Had she offered to prey on me I possibly would have used the sharpie on her.

That was the best Freudian slip evah!

:clap: :dance:

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