Making the Rounds: Religious Diversity in Health Care

Tanenbaum’s Religious Diversity in Health Care Program recently conducted two Grand Rounds presentations in New Jersey, both made possible by a grant from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. We crafted our presentations based on confidential interviews we conducted with hospital staff, so that we were able to address the unique needs of each hospital, program, and patient population.  

In January, we kicked off our first Grand Rounds training at the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center with the Internal Medicine department. Our one hour presentation “Improving Religio-Cultural Competence in Patient Care,” covered three key objectives: Why we should we address religious diversity, when religious beliefs and practices intersect with patient care, and how we can communicate respectfully with patients and their families to improve health care results.   
 
At Beth Israel, we were very excited to see everyone engaged in the presentation and participating in our Q&A session. A question of particular interest was what to do when a patient asks you “What’s your religion?” The resident who posed the question explained that on the one hand, she felt that sharing this information could be beneficial in connecting with the patient, but on the other hand, as an Agnostic, she worried what the patient’s reaction might be. In other words, she felt that saying she was Agnostic was the wrong answer. 
 
Our Director of Programs explained that the only “wrong” answer in this situation would be to avoid or sidestep the question. Being up-front is key because patients can easily tell when their doctor is being evasive, which can lead to an erosion of trust in the doctor-patient relationship. As long as a patient is reassured that their religious and spiritual needs will be met, a doctor should follow their instincts and comfort level on whether or not to disclose their own religious beliefs. 

In March we conducted another Grand Rounds presentation, this time for Jersey Shore University Medical Center’s Pediatrics Department. We were happy to see that we had a large audience that seemed eager to learn about the topic. In May we will be back at Jersey Shore, this time to present in front of the Psychiatry Department. We are looking forward to expanding our reach across a variety of medical specialties, and to increasing and sharing our knowledge on religious diversity in health care.