The "Good" Physician: Role Perceptions, Beliefs, and Patient Interactions

Student Author(s)

Shannon Moloney

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Aaron B. Franzen, Sociology

Document Type


Event Date



When sick, patients understand their conditions in the terms of their everyday experiences. How normal rhythms are impacted, interrupted or disturbed. Religion, for many, plays an integral role in making sense of experiences, but processes of healing often do not include these meaning making structures such as religious beliefs. This potentially hinders patients’ healing processes or at least their experiences with healthcare. Over the years, research has shown that patients would like their physicians to ask about or at least be aware of their religious/spiritual beliefs (Ehman et al. 1999). Physicians, however, tend to deemphasize religion in interactions with patients even while they tend to agree on the potential importance of religion (Armbruster, Chibnall, and Legett 2003). This project focused on the relationship between a physician’s personal beliefs and values and their professional beliefs and values in an attempt to understand how or when there is an overlap, and whether this overlap influences perceptions regarding what they should be doing as a physician. That is, what do they think they ought to be doing, and is this patterned by their personal beliefs? Semistructured interviews were conducted with southwest Michigan physicians to understand these questions. We found that most physicians could articulate how their own beliefs or values influenced the attitudinal/relational dimension of medical care, forming a foundation for these professional values. Moreover, respondents’ personal beliefs and values also seemed to influence the stability of physician’s identity as physician. In particular, they spoke of a more unified identity (little to no separate “personal” and “professional” persona), and having an emotional buffer with which to cope with the professions’ pressures.


This research was supported by the Jacob E. Nyenhuis grant for student and faculty collaborative research.

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