Friday, February 20, 2009

Christian Doctors or Doctors who are Christian?

Becoming Christian Doctors or Doctors who are Christian

Dr Alex Tang

Monash Medical Student Fellowship

21 February 2009

You are all beginning a new phase in your medical training. Some of you are entering the wards for the first time. You talk to and touch real patients. After two years of reading about them, you are now dealing with flesh and blood persons. For others this will be the second year you are dealing with patients. You will be dealing with the new fields of paediatrics, OBYGYN and psychiatry. For yet others you will be in your final year with graduation and housemanship visible in the near horizon. All this is exciting and scary at the same time. I do not think I need to remind you how privileged you are to be doctors.

Medical training in its various forms is an apprentice system. You are taught by doctors who are medical practitioners themselves. Thus they have been through what you are going through and have lived what you will be living during your professional life. This is similar to the way our Lord Jesus trains his disciples. He first gave them teaching and information. Then he sent them out in pairs to preach. After that they came together and Jesus debriefed them. This is what is happening in your bedside teaching, PBL, case presentations and clinical attachments.

There are two levels of learning. The first level is acquiring knowledge and clinical skills. This is what you have been doing here. You study and memorise enough facts to know how to treat your patients and their illness. You also learn how to dress, communicate and behave like a doctor.

Concurrent with this is level two learning. Level two learning goes deeper and involves your character and your worldview. In other words, level two learning makes you a good doctor: one that is caring, compassionate, humble, and committed to being a competent professional. The medical curriculum in this medical school is designed for two levels of learning. Their goal is to transform you into a doctor.

For you, there is also the additional question of whether you want to be a Christian doctor or a doctor who is a Christian. Am I playing with semantics here? A Christian doctor may be someone who was baptised as a baby, or grew up in a Christian family, or just listed Christian under the religion question in his identity card or birth certificate. Christian in such a case is an adjective. In describing a doctor who is Christian, the Christian is the person while ‘doctor’ describes what he or she does. There is a vast difference between the two.

Together with your training to be a doctor, you are also training to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Rom. 12:2 is about the transformation of the mind. Transformation or metanoia implies level one and level two learning. This involves attending church, bible reading and study, prayer and service. Note that training to be a doctor and training to be a disciple occurs together. You cannot postpone your discipleship development until after you graduate. So your time in the medical school is to train to be a doctor and a doctor who is a Christian.

The medical school will take care of your training as a doctor and your church will take care of your training as a doctor who is a Christian. Unfortunately there will be a limit to what your pastor or church leader can do. No matter how good their intentions, your pastors and leaders (unless they are doctors) will never truly understand what you are going through. They will not have experienced trying to do a venupuncture on a screaming child at 2 am in the morning, dealing with life-and-death situations (sometimes saving as many as three lives before lunch), watching a patient die, or delivering a newborn baby by cutting open the mother. Only another doctor who is a Christian will understand. This is where student Christian medical fellowships are important. This is where you will meet with doctors who are Christians and learn from one another, pray for one another and support one another. Some of them are further along the road than others and they can share their successes, failures and temptations.

Worry and fear will be two of your constant companions as you journey along as a doctor. When you wake up in the morning, you worry about what you will face today and fear that you will fail to meet the challenge or that your mistake will harm or kill someone. Matt 6:34 summarises Jesus’ teaching about worry and fear. Worry and fear are actually are both side of the same coin. It shows a lack of trust in God and a lack of confidence in yourself. If you avail yourself of the training in your medical school and your Christian spiritual formation, you will be better equipped to manage your worry and fear.

Soli Deo Gloria

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