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Keywords:

  • religion;
  • spirituality;
  • clinical geneticists;
  • genetic counselors;
  • genetic nurses;
  • value conflicts

Abstract

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.