It seems fitting to talk about our buzz word of the week – religion – running up to the holiest day on the Christian calendar.
We’ve mentioned religion in class and its effect on patient’s decision-making with respect to end-of-life care and the basic tenets of their belief systems. We’ve also talked about it with respect to our own set of values and how it affects the care we give our patients. Or rather, how it shouldn’t. We’ve been told that it’s best to keep your religion and your practice separate. Keeps things from getting complicated.
But I’d like to make the argument that it’s a flawed way of thinking. Since I seem to blog everything better this way, let me tell you a story.
Rewind to junior high. Ignore the glasses. And the braces. And the hideous hair.
Anyway. I’m sitting in science class, reading the textbook. Or rather, I’m speed reading as someone in the class is reading out loud at a snail’s pace. As I tune out the turtle, I notice a yellow box on the page titled “Malaria.” I’m curious. I’d heard of this – some kind of tropical disease? Carried by mosquitoes, kills a lot of people… So I read. I read it three times. I was absolutely fascinated, just glued to the page. I still remember what an impression that one little passage made.
The same sort of thing happened several times in high school – I’d read something about an interesting medical tidbit or disorder and be possessed by curiosity. But each time, I didn’t think much of it, it was just something interesting that I’d read.
I’m a born and raised Roman Catholic. For those unfamiliar with our special little corner of Christianity, we believe in several things:
- God, the super awesome doer of all stuff. He’s nice.
- Jesus, Messiah of pretty much everybody, the guy who told the Devil to stuff it and couldn’t even be held back by death.
- The Holy Spirit, the little piece of God that whispers to you, even when you’re not listening.
- The Pope, the guy who speaks for God while he’s not around.
- The Church itself, which is basically the tradition that’s been passed down from the early Christians.
To clarify – and people have asked – I’m still Catholic, not because my parents tell me to, not because I’ve never questioned my faith, not because I’ve never “known better”… I’m Catholic because that’s just what I believe in.
Fast forward to undergrad. People had been asking me constantly through high school, “You so smart, you’re gonna be a doctor, aren’t you?” “Don’t waste those brains on acting, you should put them to use as a doctor or something.” I ignored most of that. I hate being told what to do with my life.
But one day the message got through. Someone suggested that I take the MCAT (i.e. the test you take to help get into med school in Canada) over the summer, just for something to aim for. And for some reason, it clicked. It made sense. Well, duh, of course I wanted to practice medicine. That’s what I really loved all along.
In retrospect, I now realize that God was trying to send a message. The Holy Spirit had been whispering in my ear for ages. Every few years, he’d nudge me a bit. “Hey, you. Yeah, see this human suffering? This disease? Help me fix it.” But I didn’t hear it until I really listened.
I do think that this path is what God wants for me. So how can I possibly separate my faith from my profession?
Don’t misunderstand – being “religious,” as it were, doesnotlead to a lesser standard of care. I would never judge a patient for wanting an abortion. I would never turn away a patient who’s gay, bisexual, or transsexual. I aim to be a healer and an educator, not a critic. That’s just not how I operate.
I realize that not everyone will understand where I’m coming from. For some people, religion and medicine simply don’t mix. They’ll think it’s odd that I would pray for the patients and medical staff I’d met that day. Or that I would take time from a busy schedule to go to mass. But to do anything less would be a disservice to the guy who gave me this gift.