Category:Religious and cultural aspects of medical care

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Understanding the religious and cultural background of patients can enhance the rapport between doctor and patient.

It is important to note that any advice outlined here can be only a guide. Individual's beliefs and practices may vary dramatically. In case of doubt, the doctor and patient may have to establish the exact position.


Religious Issues

Religion literally means to reunite. Religion aims to connect man to divinity. Man is an animal to whom religion ascribes attributes it classifies as divine.

The animalistic tendencies in man are generally kept suppressed by the inhibitory controls exerted by the society.

The family upbringing, training at school and exposure to thoughts of the divine tend to give an edge to the qualities of compassion, sharing and realizing the needs of others around.

Unfortunately at times the animalistic tendencies take over and transform a potentially divine man into a cruel animal. As physicians we should be able to address to the spiritual needs of our patients in addition to alleviating their pain and suffering. The health needs of the body are better met if the spiritual needs are addressed at the same time. A patient is not a sum of all the organs and systems. A patient is a wholesome individual tormented by the deficiencies in his bodily and mental functions.

A physician with a spiritual outlook can make a huge difference to the patient's recovery. A religious physician's assertion might be that there is some difference in frequency, magnitude or type of recovery from that provided by a physician not professing the same collection of beliefs and assertions. This lacks evidence of the conventional scientific repeatable and testable variety.

A cheerful doctor with pleasant manners and a spontaneous feeling of identification with the patient can be a blessing. A doctor should have a grasp of the patient's culture in order to make inroads into his psyche. For instance an elderly Hindu man or woman will be pleasantly surprised to see a white doctor saying Namaste with folded hands. Similarly the heart of a muslim can be won over by saying Salaam Aalekhum. It is of course not necessary to learn the traditions and customs of various cultures to make a great impression. A natural loving temperament with a smile on the face removes all the barriers between men. A warm hand shake and a hug, speak louder than any of the customary greetings. A genuine interest in the patient's (cultural) needs, and an understanding of the dietary requirements and the niceties that need to be addressed generate a feeling of warmth. It is not just the cultural needs of the patients that have to be addressed. The health staff coming from various parts of the world have their own ways of expression of happiness and displeasure. It may not be possible to address all the grievances of everyone. It makes sense to have an understanding of all the problems and if even a few of them are addressed sincerely others will come into place automatically.

Religions may be viewed by non-believers as being rigid, and creating rules for their believers that make it harder for them to access or be provided with best medical care. It is true that some patients will insist on following such rules; and some versions of some religions do "require" them to do so. For the most part, however, religious establishments are pragmatic and, on many issues, will accept that preventing death and suffering now is more important than worrying about, for example, how the cell line on which the vaccine do so was first obtained. Some individuals - both priests/clerics or equivalents thereof; and some other individuals - will insist on interpreting religious texts in ways which cause problems. This may be a challenge to professionals who need to treat patients with respect, regardless of the origin or respectability (or otherwise) of their beliefs.

It is generally held that professionals should not allow their own religious beliefs adversely to affect the way they treat patients, or to discriminate between patients.

Specific religions

Cultural Issues

Practising in a multi-cultural society means making an effort to learn about the cultural baggage each patient carries, and to try and understand how a patient's worldview might affect their care, from issues of compliance to the need for a chaperone in what might otherwise not be considered an intimate examination.

External Links

  • Annals of RCSEng

See also this article (the first in a series) in the Lancet.[1]


  1. Tomkins A, Duff J, Fitzgibbon A, Karam A, Mills EJ, Munnings K, et al. Controversies in faith and health care. Lancet 386(10005):1776-1785.


This category has the following 4 subcategories, out of 4 total.