A couple of weeks ago Caity, Tanenbaum’s Program and Communications Associate, asked us to consider when using prayer in public settings is OK. As she noted in her post, while some may find prayer helpful, others feel uncomfortable or insulted if made to observe another’s religious practice.

Patients and their family members often turn to prayer when facing serious illness and sometimes ask their doctors to take part in the reflection.  A new study published in the December issue of Southern Medical Journal found that doctors handle prayer requests in one of four ways, ranging along a spectrum from active participation to offering suggestions for alternative accommodations.  Oftentimes, prayer requests are made under particular circumstances. The 30 pediatricians and pediatric oncologists survey participants reported that nearly all of these requests were made by those caring for the well-being of a seriously ill or dying child.

Issues of religious and spiritual accommodation usually occur in end-of-life situations and may have a positive affects on a patient’s health. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that, of a group of patients facing life-threatening illness, those who felt that their spiritual needs were met by their medical team reported not only a better quality of life, but were three times as likely to receive greater hospice care than those who didn’t.

Prayer can be a positive means to improve a patient’s well-being and its practitioners need not be limited to health care providers.  Intercessory prayer, prayer offered by an individual on behalf of another, has been shown to promote healing. Martha Hinman, Professor of physical therapy at Hardin-Simmons University says that, “people who are very sick or recovering from major surgeries or injuries tend to get better quicker — if they know people are praying for them.”

And as Caity reported last month, St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has taken the power of prayer viral. The hospital has created a “community of prayer”, with a new Web site called www.sharetheprayer.tv, in order to raise awareness about its healing capacity.

Countless studies and anecdotes point to the importance of making a place for religion and spirituality in health care settings. It is our mission to do so. As Tracy Balboni, MD, MPH, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, “there needs to be more training of clinicians from medical school and beyond, and that includes physicians, nurses, social workers, and all those involved in caring for patients”. We can’t agree with you more Tracy!