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Background: It has been shown that patients would like to discuss their spiritual beliefs with their physicians and that they have spiritual needs which are often under addressed by health care professionals. Whereas, addressing those needs in clinical practice is a component of the holistic care that every patient deserves, the attitude of physicians towards addressing them has not been ascertained in our environment.
Objectives: To explore physicians' attitude and self-reported behavior towards patients’ spirituality in clinical practice at a tertiary health facility in Southern Nigeria.
Methods: In this cross-sectional survey carried out between August and November 2020, a semi-structured and self-administered questionnaire was completed by the participating physicians which were of various ranks and working in various departments of the hospital. Their attitude towards their patients’ spirituality in clinical practice and self-reported behavior were analyzed using SPSS version 25.0.
Results: A total of 200 physicians participated in the study, 90% of them were residents of various cadres, two-third (n=122; 61%) had less than 10 years work experience. Majority of respondents (n=163; 81.5%) considered it appropriate to make inquiries about their patients’ spirituality and less than half of them (n=98; 49%) were aware that there is a religious leader in the hospital who offers pastoral care. Half of the respondents (n=104; 52%) reported they rarely take spirituality history of patients, 18 (9%) often pray with the patient while 100 (50%) rarely refer patients for pastoral care. Insufficient time was the most frequent barrier to discussing spiritual issues with patients. However, only 5 (2.5%) respondents were able to name 3 common tools a health worker can use to assess patients’ spiritual needs.
Conclusion: Physicians enquiry into patients’ spirituality was inconsistent, and there were gaps between their attitudes to discussing these issues with their patients and its practice. Incorporating spiritual care courses into physicians’ training is recommended to overcome the barriers to both patient and physician spiritual inquiry.
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