The role and impact of personal faith and religion among genetic service providers


  • Gail Geller,

    Corresponding author
    • Johns Hopkins University, 624 N. Broadway, Room 350, Baltimore, MD 21205.
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    • Gail Geller, Sc.D., M.H.S., is a Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with primary affiliations in the Berman Institute of Bioethics and the Department of Medicine. She has joint appointments in the Department of Pediatrics, the Institute of Genetic Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Health, Behavior and Society. Her research focuses on the ethical and psychosocial implications of genetic testing including communication, decision-making, and well-being of patients, families, and health care providers.

  • Ellyn Micco,

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    • Ellyn Micco, M.S., is a Project Manager and Qualitative Researcher in the Division of Population Sciences at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. As a trained medical anthropologist, her particular interests are in authority and identity negotiation in the clinical setting and the collection and analysis of qualitative data.

  • Rachel J. Silver,

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    • Rachel J. Silver, Sc.M., is a Genetic Counselor in the Prenatal Diagnosis and Medical Genetics Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada. She is interested in value conflicts experienced by genetic counselors in the prenatal setting.

  • Ken Kolodner,

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    • Ken Kolodner, Ph.D., is an independent statistical Consultant in Baltimore. As a trained behavioral scientist, he has particular interest in psychometric analysis and scale development.

  • Barbara A. Bernhardt

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    • Barbara A. Bernhardt, M.S., C.G.C., is a Clinical Associate Professor and Genetic Counselor in the Division of Medical Genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the clinical and social implications of advances in medical genetics including the diffusion and evaluation of genetic counseling and testing in clinical practice.

  • How to cite this article: Geller G, Micco E, Silver RJ, Kolodner K, Bernhardt BA. 2009. The role and impact of personal faith and religion among genetic service providers. Am J Med Genet Part C Semin Med Genet 151C:31–40.


This paper describes the impact of genetic service providers' personal faith and religious values on their experiences interacting with colleagues and patients. We surveyed 480 clinical geneticists (MDs), genetic counselors (GCs), and genetic nurses randomly selected from their professional associations, and then interviewed a sample of survey respondents. Outcomes included religiosity, coping with distress through spiritual beliefs, and personal value conflicts (PVCs). Two hundred fourteen providers completed the survey out of an estimated 348 eligible (61% response rate). Importance attributed to regular attendance at religious services ranged from 39% (not at all important) to 27% (very important). Reliance on religion and spiritual beliefs as a source of comfort ranged from 48% (never) to 33% (sometimes or often). Religiosity varied by discipline with 58% of nurses thinking regular attendance at religious services was moderately or very important as compared to 47% of GCs and 30% of MDs (P = 0.006). Ten percent of respondents had difficulty reconciling their own faith with being a genetics professional, 14% felt the need to hide their own faith from their colleagues or patients, 7% thought their professional stance was not consistent with their personal values, and 4% felt ostracized by the genetics community because of their personal beliefs. The experience of such PVCs was positively correlated with religiosity (r = 0.35; P < 0.0001). GCs were more likely to experience PVCs than MDs or nurses (P = 0.013). Data from the interviews (N = 54) support these findings. A significant minority of genetic service providers are religiously observant and rely on their religious values to cope with distress. These individuals often experience difficulty reconciling their religious beliefs with the expectations of their profession, and sharing their beliefs with their colleagues and patients. Efforts should be made to prevent or reduce the secrecy surrounding personal faith and religion among genetics professionals. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.