February 1, 2015

The Good Physician Project

Longitudinal study by Sarah Schnitker to explore spirituality and virtue formation in physicians. An Exploration of the Role of Religion and Spirituality on Virtue Formation in Physicians.

Project Dates

February 2015—January 2017

Thrive Research Team

  • Sarah Schnitker, Principal Investigator
  • Tyler Greenway, Co-Investigator
  • Michael Leffel, Co-Investigator (Point Loma Nazarene University)
  • Ross Oaks-Mueller, Co-Investigator (Point Loma Nazarene University)
  • John Yoon, Co-Investigator (University of Chicago Medical Center)
  • Farr Curlin, Co-Investigator (University of Chicago Medical Center)
  • Abigail Shepherd, Student Researcher

Funded By

This project was supported by A New Science of Virtues, an initiative at the University of Chicago through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Project Overview

The Good Physician project 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.

The following paper examines 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 are examined:

  • Shepherd, A. M., Schnitker, S. A., Leffel, G. M., Oaks-Mueller, R. A., Curlin, F. A., Yoon, J.D., & *Greenway, T. (2018). Developing the Good Physician: Spirituality affects the development of virtues and moral intuitions in medical students. Journal of Positive Psychology, 13, 143-154. doi:10.1080/17439760.2016.1269185


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