When the Doctor Calls, Do They Ask If You Pray?

When the Doctor Calls, Do They Ask if You Pray?

Models used for illustrative purposes

A guest post written by Ingrid Peschke, a Christian Science practitioner and a legislative advocate for spiritual healing in Massachusetts. You can also read this post on my weekly syndicated blog, “Health Conscious” at MetroWest Daily News.

Patient-centered care is the buzzword in the healthcare industry.

More people today are online, asking questions, finding their own path to treatment and healthy outcomes. They’re also recognizing the value of treatment that considers them as more than just a bunch of moving parts, but recognizes their spiritual and emotional well-being as well.

Still, this trend may not be catching on yet everywhere, specifically with the senior population and in clinical settings.

My friend Dara recently flew a few states away to be with her elderly father in the hospital after a minor operation. It quickly became apparent just how vital her presence was to advocate for his care. One of my friend’s priorities was to be sure that her dad was surrounded by the kind of care he was used to, which included prayer and spiritual support. Dara’s mother was right by her husband’s side as well, but she, too, needed her daughter’s spiritual, emotional, and practical support.

“At one point mom said it was time for dad to have his pain medication, so I asked dad if he felt any pain.” The doctor had said to give pain medication every two hours, “But we’re talking about morphine…that’s strong stuff!” Dara said. Her dad felt fine so they chose to skip the morphine.

Then the doctor indicated that there may have been evidence of cancer during the operation. Apparently, as soon as the chart has a check-mark next to cancer, a whole team gets mobilized. Soon there were cancer counselors and specialists coming by the room, assuming that something very dire had in fact occurred.

Dara didn’t want to further alarm her parents, so she reassured the counselors that the first test was inconclusive and the doctors had to run it several times. Finally, she told them that they were a family who believed in the power of prayer and positive thinking, and typically preferred a spiritually-based approach to caring for their health.

In the end, Dara’s father went home and when the tests were returned they found no cancer in his body.

Dara said, “There were just so many times that I asked myself, ‘What would have happened if I hadn’t been there to help out?’” The nurses told her that family members don’t usually stay in the hospital as advocates for their parents.

Dara has experienced the beneficial effect of Bible-based prayer in all kinds of situations. And this was no exception. She said she kept thinking, “My father isn’t made up of numbers, percentages, etc. I just couldn’t believe that all of those technical numbers were his identity.”

Dara was surprised no one ever asked about her parents’ religious beliefs since that’s such a big part of their life and their concept of health.

Asking about a patient’s religious affiliation isn’t always comfortable for doctors. But today more medical professionals in training are learning about the variety of religious beliefs and the effect of prayer on well-being. Harvard Medical School is one of the schools that led the way to incorporate classes on spirituality and medicine, courses which are now found in about 80% of medical schools, compared to only 3% twenty years ago.

Murray Levine, professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo, concludes that “modern research is supporting what untold millions of people over the ages have found about the power of prayer.” He says, “Religiosity, faith, spirituality and the practice of private prayer are related to health and well-being.” (More Doctors Are Treating Patients’ Emotional, Spiritual Pain).

Dr. Nancy Kehoe in Belmont, MA, has come up with a helpful assessment tool for doctors to inquire about their patients’ spiritual and religious history and current practice. Dr. Kehoe told me that while she was at Cambridge Hospital in the 1970s it struck her that “it was so odd that a person’s religion was never mentioned in a clinical context. It seemed like such a critical aspect of a person’s life.”

That prompted her to put together a comprehensive religious history questionnaire to be used in clinical settings. She said in the over 30 years she’s been looking at this issue “there’s certainly been a shift [in awareness] since I started.”

Dara said, “My parents aren’t used to going to doctors so they get intimidated. They wouldn’t have offered their position on their religious beliefs if I hadn’t been there.”

Maybe more people will begin sharing their religious beliefs as more medical professionals become aware and comfortable asking the questions and recognizing the benefits.

Prayer-centered care could become the new buzzword.

About the author

Guest We are pleased to present Notes from the Field authors, who are assistant committees and church members in the Southern California region; and Notes from The Mother Church authors, who are Committees from the United States and around the world, as well as the Federal Committee on Publication office.


  1. Pamela says

    Wow, thanks for this post. Hooray for Dara she did exactly the right thing. And Doctors do need to consider “the whole man” not just the physical picture. That never shows anyone the whole truth. And Prayer-centered care should be the new buzzword.

    Thanks Ingrid this was a great blog!

  2. Anne says

    I was very interested in this excellent blog. A friend of mine had surgery last year, but definitely made every effort to rely on prayer to calm her fears and the doctor’s predictions for a slow recovery.

    She was up and about and driving in less than a full week and the doctor took notice. He was amazed and delighted with her quick return to normal living. She gave credit to prayer and her religious beliefs, and the doctor was receptive to that fact.

    While appreciating the skill of a surgeon, it’s encouraging to learn that the medical field is recognizing that there is more to consider in the mental realm of a patient than just observing a physical body with brain, blood, and bones.

    This post is an important one. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. says

    Thanks for this timely post. Family members are going through hospital situations at this time. This will be so helpful to them. I’m sharing this in several directions and posting on Facebook.

  4. Tracy says

    Great article! I think a lot of Christian Scientists aren’t always comfortable with the culture of hospitals, which is why it’s nice to feel like there are spiritual advocates there for them (and family members are a great one!) Thanks for sharing Dara’s story, Ingrid. I found it really helpful.

  5. Rhonda says

    Thanks so much Ingrid for sharing this experience of your friend. Great examples of how we can be alert and helpful in these situations. (=

  6. Cassie says

    Well-written and very helpful article. How true that folks get the best care when they have a caring advocate on their behalf and medical staff know that family care and are engaged. Thanks Ingrid!

  7. says

    Thanks to Ingrid for sharing this example of advocacy, which significantly supports both a patient’s real needs, and the capacity of healthcare professionals to listen, and to individualize the care plan.

  8. Kathie Kilgore says

    How important it is to speak up for ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t need to be intimidated by a system. The physicians are merely practicing what they have been taught. But we can depend upon a higher authority!

  9. Wanda Kramer says

    Some proponents of spirituality in the context of health claim that prayer can decrease the negative effects of disease, speed recovery, and increase the effectiveness of medical treatments. Faith and religious beliefs are also thought to improve coping and provide comfort during illness. Attendance at religious events and services is sometimes linked with improvement of various health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, colitis, cancers, and overall health status. Scientific evidence is mixed.