Physicians’ Attitude towards Patients’ Spirituality at a Tertiary-Care Health Facility in Southern Nigeria

Main Article Content

G. K. Eke
N. Onodingene


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.

Patients’ spirituality, clinical practice, physicians, attitude and behavior, Southern Nigeria

Article Details

How to Cite
Eke, G. K., & Onodingene, N. (2021). Physicians’ Attitude towards Patients’ Spirituality at a Tertiary-Care Health Facility in Southern Nigeria. Asian Journal of Medicine and Health, 19(2), 27-35.
Original Research Article


Igboin BO. Spirituality and medical practice: A Christian perspective. Indian J Med Ethics. 2015;12(4):199–206.

Lucchetti G, de Oliveira LR, Koenig HG, Leite GR, Lucchetti ALG. For the SBRAME Collaborators. Medical students, spirituality and religiosity- results from the multicenter study SBRAME. BMC Medical Education. 2013;13:162.

Lucchetti G, Lucchetti ALG, Espinha DCM, de Oliveira LR, Leite JR, Koenig HG. Spirituality and health in the curricula of medical schools in Brazil. BMC Medical Education. 2012; 12:78. Available:

Selman L, Young T, Vermandere M, Stirling I, Leget C. On behalf of the research sub group of the European Association for Palliative Care Spiritual Care Taskforce. Research Priorities in Spiritual Care: An International Survey of Palliative Care Researchers and Clinicians. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2014;48(4):518-531.

McCord G, Gilchrist VJ, Grossman SD, King BD, McCormick KF, Oprandi AM, et al. Discussing spirituality with patients: A rational and ethical approach. Ann Fam Med. 2004;2: 356-361. DOI: 10.1370/afm.71

Best M, Butow P, Olver I. Doctors discussing religion and spirituality: A systematic literature review. Palliative Medicine. 2016;30(4):327-337. DOI: org/10.1177/0269216315600912

Keith AE. Pastoral care in public settings: A theoretical and theological premise with effective outcomes of chaplaincy. Testamentum Imperium. 2018;5:1-18.

Spiritual Care and Physicians: Understanding spirituality in medical practice making spiritual care a priority [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Jan 5].

Zehtab S, Adib-Hajbaghery M. The importance of spiritual care in nursing. Nurs Midwifery Stud. 2014; 3(3).

Heabert RS, Jenckes MW, Ford DE, O’Connor DR, Cooper LA. Patient perspectives on spirituality and the patient-physician relationship. J Gen Intern Med. 2001;16(10):685–692.

African Palliative Care Association. Standards for providing quality palliative care across Africa. Kampala: African Palliative Care Association; 2010.

Saguil A, Fitzpatrick AL, Clark G. Are residents willing to discuss spirituality with patients? Journal of religion and health. 2011;50(2):279–288.

Dameron CM. Spiritual assessment made easy with acronyms!. JCN. 2005;22(1):14-16.

Demirsoy N. Holistic care philosophy for patient‐centered approaches and spirituality. Patient Centered Medicine. 2017;119-138. Available:

Agbiji EO. Pastoral caregivers in the Nigerian hospital context: A pastoral theological approach. Dissertation presented for the Degree of Doctor Philosophy in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University; 2013.

Sulmasy DP, Kilbreath E. The healer’s calling: A Spirituality for physicians and other health care professionals. The Linacre Quarterly. 2003;70. Available: .marquette. edu/ lnq/vol70/iss2/11

Nte AR, Eke GK. Celebrating the world breastfeeding week in the era of COVID-19 pandemic in Southern Nigeria: Lessons learned. Journal of Scientific Research & Reports. 2020;26(9):46-57. National Bureau of Statistics. 2017 Demographic statistics bulletin; 2018.

Curlin FA, Chin MH, Sellergren SA, Roach CJ, Lantos JD. The association of physicians’ religious characteristics with their attitudes and self-reported behaviors regarding religion and spirituality in the clinical encounter. Medical Care. 2006;44(5):446–453.

Curlin FA, Lantos JD, Roach CJ, Sellergren SA, Chin MH. Religious characteristics of U.S. physicians: A national survey. Journal of General and Internal Medicine. 2005;20(7):629–634.

Curlin FA, Lawrence RE, Odell S, Chin MH, Lantos JD, Koenig HG, et al. Religion, spirituality, and medicine: Psychiatrists’ and other physicians’ differing observations, interpretations, and clinical approaches. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2007;164(12):1825–1831.

Hvidt NC, Kørup AK, Curlin FA, Baumann K, Frick E, Søndergaard J, et al. The NERSH international collaboration on values, spirituality and religion in medicine: Development of questionnaire, description of data pool, and overview of pool publications. Religions. 2016;7(8):107.

Puchalski CM. The role of spirituality in health care. Baylor Univ Med Cent Proc. 2001;14(4):352–357. Available:

Vasconcelos APSL, Lucchetti ALG, Cavalcanti APR, da Silva Conde SRS, Gonçalves LM, do Nascimento FR, et al. Religiosity and spirituality of resident physicians and implications for clinical practice - the SBRAMER multicenter study. J Gen Intern Med. 2020;35(12):3613-3619. DOI: 10.1007/s11606-020-06145-x

Rassoulian A, Seidman C, Loffler-Stastk H. Transcendence, religion and spirituality in medicine: Medical students’ point of view. Medicine. 2016;95:38(e4953).

Zaidi D. Influences of religion and spirituality in medicine. AMA Journal of Ethics. 2018;20(7):E609-612.

Büssing A, Koenig HG. Spiritual needs of patients with chronic diseases. Religions. 2010;1:18-27. DOI:10.3390/rel1010018

Abdulla A, Hossain M, Barla C. Toward comprehensive medicine: Listening to spiritual and religious needs of patients. Gerontol Geriatr Med. 2019;5:1-6.

Anadarajah G. Doing a culturally sensitive spiritual assessment: Recognizing spiritual themes and using the hope questions. Virtual Mentor. 2005;7(5): 371–374.

Best M, Butow P, Olver I. Do patients want doctors to talk about spirituality? A systematic literature review. Patient Educ Couns. 2015;98(11):1320-1328.

D’Souza R. The importance of spirituality in medicine and its application to clinical practice. The Medical Journal of Australia. 2007;186(10):S57.

Saguil A, Phelps K. The spiritual assessment. American Family Physician. 2012;86(6):546–550. [PubMed: 23062046]