On Being a Christian Physician
My name is Dalis Kim and I am a second-year medical student at USF. I have thought in the past that I could start the day as a medical student and end the day as a faithful Christian. Medicine was seemingly immiscible with religion and this separation seemed to adequately assuage my callings as a physician and as a Christian. However, I now find myself both objecting to the “separation of church and medicine” and challenging the notion that medicine is incompatible in my walk with Christ.
Like a watercolor painting, my Christian faith has spread outward from a section of canvas and permeates to all aspects of my life, coloring and tinting the way I view the world. It is now impossible for me to compartmentalize the colors; nor do I have a desire for such duplicity. Maintaining spiritual neutrality in public is equivalent to suppressing the truth, and we are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ in our daily lives. I cannot live without “rehearsing the truth” (a phrase we heard in our medical ethics seminar) but I find it difficult to practice my Christian faith in a field that is becoming increasingly secularized. So how do I become a faithful, Christian physician and reconcile the differences between Christian and medical values?
At our medical ethics seminar, I revisited many dilemmas in medicine I encountered in my medical education. During our case study session, we became a medical ethics board and proposed resolutions to hypothetical medical cases. I was surprised to see the considerable shift in my worldview compared with the beginning of my medical journey. I can see how my faith in Christ has greatly influenced my thinking and my ability to be a Christian physician.
What do I know as a physician? As we started to discuss the topic of euthanasia, my mind jumped to the “end of life” discussion I had in medical humanities. I remember sharing with my class an article I found on how patients and physicians differ in the way they choose to die. When faced with terminal illness, more physicians sought palliative care while more of the general population sought aggressive resuscitation and prolongation of life. Why do physicians die differently? They have rehearsed their own deaths while witnessing their patients suffer and die. If they had the choice, they would rather die than suffer.
What do I know as a Christian? We are all familiar with suffering, in one form or another. I believe that many times in our lives, we are driven to make certain choices by our fear of suffering. Just as we instinctively lift our hands when we touch a hot object, we are created to choose the option that minimizes suffering. It seems contradictory be built one way but called to respond otherwise. Peter the Apostle speaks in 1 Peter 4:1-2: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” A Christian must choose suffering if it means to glorify and submit to God. But what does this mean for those who do not follow Christ? What is the meaning of suffering for them? What if that patient is really suffering? There is a difference between allowing someone to die by forgoing invasive treatments and killing the patient. As a physician, do I minimize suffering at all costs? Even if it means eliminating the person?
Our seminar discussion gave me more insight on caring for others as a faithful physician and an opportunity to consider other perspectives. Though the society continues to suppress the truth and blur the line of ethics, I know where I stand. As a physician, I am to care for patients and do no harm. As a Christian, I am to hold high the sanctity of life. The science and art that governs medicine are not mutually exclusive to one another as they are all revelations from God. The movement to secularize medicine aims to appease modern-day unbelievers. Just as the author of the gospel of Luke and Sir William Osler were exemplary physicians of faith, I will not conform. By God’s grace, I will be a physician who rehearses the truth throughout my entire life and calling as a physician. SOLI DEO GLORIA.