The beliefs of cancer care providers regarding the role of religion and spirituality within the clinical encounter



To characterize cancer care provider perceptions of the role of religion and spirituality (R&S) within the clinical encounter.


A cross-sectional survey was administered to healthcare professionals (defined as someone who is authorized to diagnose and/or treat physical or mental health disorders) currently employed at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Beliefs around the role of R&S within the clinical encounter were assessed using four adapted subscales/dimensions (D1-D4) from the Religion and Spirituality in Medicine: Physicians’ Perspectives measure: God actively intervenes in patient health (D1), R&S is beneficial for patient mental health (D2), provider inquires about (D3) and discusses (D4) R&S in the clinical encounter. Logistic (D1) and linear (D2–D4) regression were performed using SAS v9.4 to determine the relationship between provider type and each subscale while controlling for gender, race, relationship status, education, and R&S identity.


Among 340 participants, most participants were female (82.1%) or Caucasian (82.6%) and the median age was 35 years (IQR 31–48). Providers included physicians (17.9%), nurses (64.7%), and “other” (17.4%). Most participants identified as religious (57.5%), followed by spiritual (30.2%) and neither religious nor spiritual (12.3%). Nurses and other providers were more likely than physicians to believe that God intervenes in patient health (physician 41.7% vs. nurse 61.8% vs. other 60.3%; p = 0.02). All providers were equally as likely to believe that R&S is beneficial for patient mental health and to discuss R&S with patients within the clinical encounter (both p > 0.05). In contrast, nurses more frequently reported inquiring about R&S (median 1.7; IQR 0.9–2.0) compared with physicians (median 1.0; IQR 0.9–2.0) or other providers (median 1.4; IQR 1.0–2.1) (p < 0.001).


There were differences between providers in beliefs regarding the role of R&S in the clinical cancer encounter. Of note, nurses and other provider types were more likely than physicians to inquire about R&S with patients. Understanding variations in these beliefs will help determine how to best incorporate R&S support for patients during their cancer care.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

The authors maintain full control of all primary data included in this article and are available from the authors on reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Timothy M. Pawlik.

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The current study was performed in accordance with the ethical standards for the protection of research participants and complied with federal regulations, guidance, and state laws related to human subjects protection. Informed consent was obtained from all participants. The study protocol was approved by the institutional review board (no. 2019C0167).

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Palmer Kelly, E., Paredes, A.Z., Hyer, M. et al. The beliefs of cancer care providers regarding the role of religion and spirituality within the clinical encounter. Support Care Cancer (2020).

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  • Spiritual care
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Cancer care
  • Patient-centered care