Original Article

Predictors of Empathic Compassion: Do Spirituality, Religion, and Calling Matter?

Authors: Caroline L. Thomas, MD, Mariana Cuceu, MD, Hyo Jung Tak, PhD, Marija Nikolic, MD, Sakshi Jain, MD, Theodore Christou, MD, John D. Yoon, MD


Objective: To determine whether physician spirituality, religion, and sense of calling toward medicine are predictors of self-reported empathic compassion.

Methods: We sampled 2000 practicing US physicians from all specialties and used self-reported measures of general and clinical empathic compassion taken from previous studies. Independent variables were single-item measures of calling, spirituality, and religiosity (importance of religion).

Results: The survey response rate was 64.5% (1289/2000). Physicians with a strong sense of calling were more likely to report higher general empathic compassion (odds ratio [OR] 2.00, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.26–3.15) and higher clinical empathic compassion (OR 3.33, 95% CI 2.07–5.36). Similarly, physicians who considered themselves spiritual were more likely to report higher general empathic compassion (OR 2.76, 95% CI 1.69–4.50) and higher clinical empathic compassion (OR 2.32, 95% CI 1.38–3.90). We did not find an association between religiosity and measures of physicians’ empathic compassion.

Conclusions: This national study of practicing US physicians from various specialties found that spirituality (not religiousness) and the identification of medicine as a calling are associated with physicians’ empathic compassion. Further study is needed to understand how spirituality and calling are linked to prosocial behaviors among physicians that may be enhancing their clinical empathy and promoting compassionate patient care.

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