The researcher behind this study is “surprised and disappointed,” but I’m neither.
Although most religious traditions call on the faithful to serve the poor, a large cross-sectional survey of U.S. physicians found that physicians who are more religious are slightly less likely to practice medicine among the underserved than physicians with no religious affiliation.
In the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers from the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital report that 31 percent of physicians who were more religious–as measured by “intrinsic religiosity” as well as frequency of attendance at religious services–practiced among the underserved, compared to 35 percent of physicians who described their religion as atheist, agnostic or none.
Charity, service, self-sacrifice, generosity, and kindness are human properties, not religious virtues. I wouldn’t expect a group of people from a common culture to show much substantial variation in empathy and public service along religious lines.
Despite the fact that he is disappointed in the result, I do have to commend the author for making a positive policy recommendation:
Policy makers and medical educators hoping to increase the physician supply for underserved populations should take these results into account cautiously, said the authors. “No one knows how to select medical students in a way that would actually increase the number of physicians eager to serve the underserved,” Curlin said, “but our findings suggest that admissions officials should ignore both the general religiousness of candidates and their professed sense of calling to medicine.”