The Good Physician

Good Physician Project

Project: The Good Physician: An Exploration of the Role of Religion and Spirituality on Virtue Formation in Physicians

Project Dates: 2015 – 2017

Project Co-Investigator: Dr. Sarah Schnitker

Student Researchers: Tyler Greenway and Abigail Shepherd

Funded By: The University of Chicago


Through a grant from the New Science of Virtues initiative at the University of Chicago, The Good Physician was the first national, longitudinal study of moral and professional formation of American physicians over the course of medical training. Prominent medical organizations have launched major initiatives to teach ‘physician professionalism’ as a ‘core competency’ while requiring medical educators to measure the outcomes of their efforts, but little has been known about whether and how the myriad of efforts and interventions actually shape the character and practices of physicians. Despite a growing pedagogical focus on modifying discrete behaviors in the developing physician, little has also been known about what virtues characterize the good physician and how are those virtues form.

This project sought to bridge the social sciences and humanities to produce a rigorous assessment of the moral and professional formation of physicians by following national cohorts of physicians-in-training, from matriculation in medical school to the first years of practice after residency and/or fellowship. Through a longitudinal design, the investigators of this project were allowed to scientifically assess the complex interplay of individual characteristics (both durable and mutable) and contextual factors (institutional features, student experiences) over the course of physicians’ medical training.

Dr. Sarah Schnitker’s paper for this project examined the mechanisms by which spirituality influences virtue and moral formation of medical students. In particular, the influence of spirituality on moral intuitions (from Haidt’s Social Intuitionist Theory of Morality) and the virtues of generosity, mindfulness, and empathic compassion were investigated.

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