Original Article

CME Article: Moral Controversy and Working with Colleagues with a Shared Ethical/Moral Outlook: A National Survey of US Primary Care Physicians

Authors: Kwang Jin Choi, MD, Hyo Jung Tak, PhD, Richard Dwyer, MD, Peter Mousa, MD, Nicholas Barreras, MD, Wafa Dawahir, MD, Theodore Christou, MD, John D. Yoon, MD

Abstract

Objectives: This study assesses physicians’ attitudes on the importance of working with colleagues who share the same ethical or moral outlook regarding morally controversial healthcare practices and examines the association of physicians’ religious and spiritual characteristics with these attitudes.

Methods: We conducted a secondary data analysis of a 2009 national survey that was administered to a stratified random sample of 1504 US primary care physicians (PCPs). In that dataset, physicians were asked: “For you personally, how important is it to work with colleagues who share your ethical/moral outlook regarding morally controversial health care practices?” We examined associations between physicians’ religious/spiritual characteristics and their attitudes toward having a shared ethical/moral outlook with colleagues.

Results: Among eligible respondents, the response rate was 63% (896/1427). Overall, 69% of PCPs indicated that working with colleagues who share their ethical/moral outlook regarding morally controversial healthcare practices was either very important (23%) or somewhat important (46%). Physicians who were more religious were more likely than nonreligious physicians to report that a shared ethical/moral outlook was somewhat/very important to them (P < 0.001 for all measures of religiosity, including religious affiliation, attendance at religious services, intrinsic religiosity, and importance of religion as well as spirituality). Physicians with a high sense of calling were more likely than those with a low sense of calling to report a high importance of having a shared ethical/moral outlook with colleagues regarding morally controversial healthcare practices (multivariate odds ratio 2.5, 95% confidence interval 1.5–4.1).

Conclusions: In this national study of PCPs, physicians who identified as religious, spiritual, or having a high sense of calling were found to place a stronger emphasis on the importance of shared ethical/moral outlook with work colleagues regarding morally controversial healthcare practices. Moral controversy in health care may pose a particular challenge for physicians with lower commitments to theological pluralism.

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