I'm not especially "out" at work, but I'm not about to lie to patients and tell them that I'm "a believer" (usually Christians ask this in my experience, although that might just be my local demographic). I also worry that it will break down the physician-patient relationship, which as an anesthesiologist I don't have much time to establish in the first place. So I usually just answer "nope" in an offhand way and change the subject. I've never had anyone refuse care from me, but I suspect it is a matter of time. I'm curious how other people handle this situation.

Tags: medical doctor, patient, physician

Views: 54

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Interesting. I live in a “Bible Belt“ state. The baptists around here feel that if you don’t believe you will be destined for hell. I say, If I don’t believe in god, I can’t believe in hell—No fear; no guilt”. I have had one patient leave my family practice office because I told him I was an atheist (he asked what church I went to-I didn’t offer up my belief first). I thought “that’s real christian of you”. Very hipocritical around here.
I have “outted” myself in my hospital over the years, so my atheism is no secret. Interestingly NO ONE will discuss my belief system because they have no valid point to make except “the bible says so” and god did it”. The intellectual banckruptcy is infuriating sometimes.
I work in an outpatient situation and there is rarely enough time to address every medical and health concern in a visit, so there also isn't time for theological (or atheological) discussions. I can't remember the last time that a patient or family member asked me about religion or prayer. Rarely, they'll say "thank god" or "We are praying for ..." but even that is very uncommon.

This is probably a partially self-selected group. If a patient is asking their fellow churchgoer about what doctor they see and do they agree with their religion, then they are not going to ask to see me. If they overtly want a religious provider, they won't seek me in the first place.

Any time that someone brings up politics (which does sometimes happen), I tell them that I don't discuss politics or religion, so that no one feels the possibility of special treatment, or lack of the very best treatment, based on those issues. I make it an issue of giving the best care for everyone, regardless of their beleifs and opinions. No one has argued with that concept so far.
I used to work in a Nursing Home. In December, one of the residents tried to give me a bible. When I politely said I did not want one, she began to say that I needed one to be saved. I just winded up walking out of the room and she did not bring it up again later. I think I probably could of handled things better looking back. I worked as a nurse in a Nursing home for 10 years. Religion is a touchy subject when people are dying. I found it was best for me to let residents speak and not offer my opinion, but I never compromised by beliefs. I feel sometimes it is better to be a good listener.
Stranglely enough, after posting that no one asks me this question, some-one did. I responded in the same way that I do when people ask about politics. A few people later, someone asked me about politics too - i responded the same way. What a strange day!
Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.

Daniel's approach seems like it might work for me under many circumstances, although part of me wants to tell people that I'm an atheist to break down stereotypes. I have no interest in turning my practice into a social change movement, however. Speaking of hypocritical, Charles, anticipating the time when I'll have a patient refuse care from me after discovering that I'm an atheist the militant part of my brain wants to have me ask the patient if he/she would like me to recommend someone of a particular racial group different than mine too as long as I'm in the process of transferring care, but again I'd never pick a fight with a patient like that.

Like Cheryl, for me religion comes up most often in the context of a patient talking about "putting things in God's hands" or mentioning that they have been praying, would like a moment to pray, or that people are praying for them. Within that context I generally just nod my head to acknowledge that I'm listening, or if a prayer session is forthcoming usually manage to find some reason to be elsewhere to allow them to proceed without needing to participate.
I think I'll try this. Here in Oklahoma, the question is usually "Where do you go to church?" instead of anything about god.
Being a nurse, we spend a lot of time with our patients. I live in a very bible belt area. I am very scared of telling patients that I am a non believer. I mean not even all of my co-workers know. What I usually try to do is just avoid the question by stating that religion must be important to you or by stating that I was raised episcopalian. This way I am not lying and I am not alienating the patient. It usually works and if they want more I can always offer to get the chaplain for them. It really bothers me that 80% of patients want their health care providers to pray with them. I can't offer that. I can be open minded to all the different religions. I could care less if somebody is a muslim, jehovah witness or buddhist but I can not pray with my patients. I believe it is a waste of time and I could be doing so much more.
When I was in the hospital having my first baby I told them none for religious preference and after my daughter was born the chaplain still came into my room to ask if I wanted a blessing for her. I politely told the chaplain that I did not believe in that and did not feel it necessary for my child. It bothers me that the chaplain gets a copy of patients and why they are there. I feel this is a violation of HIPAA. When I have my son in December I am going to be explicit about my non theism and request that the chaplain not even see my chart much less enter my room. I already have to deal with mine and my husbands families when it comes to religion, I shouldn't have to deal with paid strangers as well.
I think the health care industry has done a good job,maybe too good, in making believers feel welcomed but it hasn't done a good job for those of us who are non theists.
I'm so glad to see fellow atheists dealing with the care of patients.  I'm a nursing student, and it took a lot of time for me to reconcile my lack of faith with the nursing profession.  I don't like the idea of lying.  I figured I would try to cop out of the situation by saying that I was raised Catholic.  I like the idea of sidestepping the issue though, like Jean Marie said.  After all, it seems most people want to talk about themselves anyway!  I'm glad that I live in a pretty liberal area of the Canada.  Negative correlation between fundies and snow? Hmm....

I am an Occupational Therapist in a NC nursing home. I have had on two different occasions patients ask me directly, "Do you believe in God?"

I told them both no and the conversation progressed in a very civil manner.

It is very difficult for me to keep my mouth shut when someone keeps going on and on about God and why he lets people suffer so, and how He gives us everything we have....etc, etc.

Hey Erik

I have gotten this question multiple times as well. Also been asked to pray with patients. 

My answer has always been the same. I am not a believer but i respect your beliefs. Thats all i say and i refuse to take part in a prayer of anykind only because it would be disingenuous to do so.

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