Doctors and Diversity: Using Interfaith Literacy and Interfaith Dialogue to Improve Patient Care

Leslie Bellwood


In an increasingly diversifying world, how can doctors and other health care professionals improve patient care? Dr. Diana Eck, Director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, claims that the United States has become the most religiously diverse nation in the world.  Shockingly, the medical field neglects discussion about how these changing religious demographics affect the practice of medicine.  Currently, in spite of the fact that religious differences have the serious potential to create obstacles in developing the patient-doctor relationship, many doctors unfortunately do not understand how to approach religious differences, or recognize their effect on patient health. For example, what if a doctor who is ignorant of Islam’s prohibition of the consumption of pork prescribes a Muslim patient Heparin, a porcine product? Would the patient unknowingly defile themselves, become noncompliant, or even pursue litigation? This paper, written by one of Concordia College’s Interfaith Scholars, proposes that doctors must 1) acquire interfaith literacy in medical school through required courses and 2) learn the skills necessary to engage in interfaith dialogue with patients in their practice in order to provide the best patient care in areas with growing diverse patient populations. The author of this essay engaged in interfaith interviews with doctors from non-majority religious traditions such as Hinduism and Islam and researched the current status of medical education and the occurrence of religious dialogue between patients and doctors nationally. This paper uses the theoretical work of Dr. Eboo Patel, author of Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America to argue that interfaith literacy is necessary to understand different spiritual backgrounds and to build compassionate care for patients with religious differences.  Interfaith dialogue is the best method for discussing a patient’s religious background because it is non-conversional at its core and allows for patients to describe their own experiences and expectations, both of which may have a substantive impact on the care that they need or are willing to accept.  This paper concludes interfaith literacy and dialogue must be taught in medical schools and practiced by doctors, because institutionalizing this change will ensure improved and more holistic patient care for those of diverse religious backgrounds.


Interfaith; Medical Education; Patient Care

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