Religion and Healthcare: The Importance of Cultural Sensitivity


Everyone has their own way of coping with pain and finding hope in times of distress. When walking through a health crisis, many turn to spirituality for comfort, and many people find their spiritual center in religion. The World Religion Database counts 18 major religious categories around the world. Scholars estimate that about 2,400 religions exist in total.

Spirituality and healthcare, many believe, are intrinsically linked. Seeing a connection between religion and healthcare is important for professionals working in the medical field. Healthcare providers need to have an awareness of how religion impacts patient experiences in order to provide appropriate care.

Individuals who have a deep appreciation for the relationship between spirituality and healthcare can consider pursuing careers where they can demonstrate cultural sensitivity to patients. Earning a degree such as a Master of Science in Spiritual Care can help people pursue careers as chaplains in the medical field, for example.

How Can Religion Impact Healthcare Experiences?

Diverse religious and spiritual beliefs can impact patient experiences and influence their decisions regarding treatment. Individuals may go about addressing medical issues in completely different ways depending on their religion’s teachings and traditions.

Cultural sensitivity plays an important role in the relationship between religion and healthcare. Many peoples’ identities are informed by their race, culture, ethnicity, gender, or religion. When it comes to receiving medical care, many patients will make decisions based on their identity in some or all of these categories. Consider the following information about religion and healthcare from a book published by StatPearls Publishing, Cultural Religious Competence in Clinical Practice.

Catholic Religion and Healthcare

Catholic patients typically believe:

  • Individuals are obligated to attend weekly Mass. For sick individuals, the Sacrament of the Sick by a priest is essential.
  • Abortion is prohibited and artificial birth control is unacceptable.
  • Organ donations and blood transfusions are acceptable.

Jehovah’s Witness Religion and Healthcare

Jehovah’s Witnesses patients typically believe:

  • Individuals should refuse blood transfusion.
  • Abortion and artificial insemination are forbidden.
  • Birth control is acceptable.
  • Organ donation is acceptable but euthanasia is not.

Seventh-Day Adventist Religion and Healthcare

Seventh-Day Adventist patients typically believe:

  • Birth control is an individual’s choice and abortion is discouraged.
  • Autopsy and organ donation is acceptable.
  • Euthanasia is unacceptable.
  • Death is a state of unconsciousness that individuals remain in, until the return of Jesus Christ.
  • Healing can occur through medical or divine intervention.

Mormon Religion and Healthcare

Mormon patients typically believe:

  • Blood transfusions and organ donation are acceptable.
  • Jesus Christ uses doctors as a means to heal people.
  • Elders of the church should bless those who are sick.
  • Euthanasia is unacceptable.

These are just a few examples of medical preferences based on religion. Patients from a number of other faiths also hold specific beliefs regarding medical practices and treatment options. Patients who interact with healthcare professionals, often at times of great trauma or grief, are diverse in their religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds. That’s why healthcare professionals should exhibit cultural competence and awareness.

Cultural competence means being aware and supportive of the cultural, social, and linguistic backgrounds of people. Healthcare professionals can explore practical ways of being culturally competent, such as learning the languages and customs of their primary patient groups. They can also research the social and cultural norms associated with their patients who have emigrated from other countries.

While knowing exactly what each patient desires may be difficult, healthcare professionals should be aware of cultural and religious preferences and have open conversations with their patients about what they need and want. Healthcare professionals can also seek guidance from chaplain staff or cultural diversity team members.

Honoring Religion in Healthcare

Honoring religion in healthcare yields a variety of benefits for patients. When patients feel respected by their nurses and doctors, they can develop a foundation of trust and feel more comfortable. Chaplains play a role in helping establish trust between patients and healthcare providers, since they provide spiritual care while doctors and nurses offer medical care.

Being ill or on the brink of death in a medical facility or hospital is a very traumatizing experience for patients and their families. When healthcare professionals respect their religious preferences, patients can enter into a state of peace before a procedure or before they die. Chaplains embody the positive connection between religion and healthcare and demonstrate how religion can benefit patients when they are in emotional and physical pain.

Chaplains also act as an example for other healthcare professionals, as they support the positive role spirituality plays in the lives of patients who are seeking hope and comfort in religious practices.

Pursue a Career in Both Religion and Healthcare

Chaplains play an important professional role in that they support the relationship between religion and healthcare. Chaplains offer spiritual support and guidance to patients, and they can serve patients from all backgrounds who rely on spirituality in their time of need.

If you are committed to helping people and find that you have a desire to pursue a career that reconciles religion and healthcare, learn more about how AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Science in Spiritual Care degree program can help you become a board-certified chaplain.

Recommended Readings

5 Types of Leadership Styles in Healthcare

Interpersonal Communication in Nursing

What Is Humanitarian Nursing?


AMA Journal of Ethics, “Influences of Religion and Spirituality in Medicine”

AMA Journal of Ethics, “Should Clinicians Challenge Faith-Based Institutional Values Conflicting with Their Own?”

Collegian, “Culturally Sensitive Communication in Healthcare: A Concept Analysis”

StatPearls Publishing, Cultural Religious Competence in Clinical Practice

Swedish Nomad, “Largest Religions in the World (2020)”

World Health Organization, Density of Physicians 

World Religion Database

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