Answering the Call: Launching of a CMDA Specialty Section
How the spiritual needs of an academic-based group of physicians and scientists inspired the founding of the Christian Academic Physicians and Scientists (CAPS), a specialty section of CMDA.
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The desire to put Christian principles into practice led to the founding of countless universities and hospitals across the United States and Europe until the early 20th century. However, most of us see few remnants of this Christian legacy at academic medical institutions today. Increasingly, the professional life of faculty members is conducted in environments that appear disconnected from Christian values. Academic medical centers often expect Christian physicians and scientists acknowledge and also to embrace and celebrate aspects of society’s rapidly evolving social norms that are in tension with their Christian beliefs.
Part of the problem is the absence of a Christian voice within much of academic medicine. Christian faculty exist, but they have become all but invisible, even to the point of Christians not knowing of the Christian presence at their own institutions. That is a tremendous loss both for Christians and the medical centers they serve. The result is that Christian healthcare professionals and scientists are missing opportunities to be witnesses through their example and to encourage one another to realize their potential both in their faith and callings.
CMDA’s historic strength has been its student-focused chapters on healthcare training campuses, which meet students’ needs at a crucial period in their lives. But there is often little continuity in CMDA involvement as students progress into residencies and fellowships and become academic faculty. Interactions among Christian faculty members are even more rare as faculty juggle research, teaching, clinical work and administrative work.
The Christian Academic Physicians and Scientists (CAPS) was founded to help fill this gap in academic medicine by seeking to nurture and equip Christian faculty members in leadership ministry (Luke 4:18), so their hearts can remain steadfast on fulfilling God’s purposes. Through fellowship, we hope to equip faculty members to be wise like serpents and gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16), so they may continue to be light and salt in their local and national academic medical communities. Through gatherings and conversations, we hope a natural network of like-minded Christians within academic medicine will develop. By doing our utmost for the glory of His name (Ephesians 2:10), we are called to greatness. As it says in Scripture, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23).
As a specialty section of CMDA, CAPS may also facilitate bridge-building by helping to establish discipling relationships among peer Christian faculty as well as between faculty and medical trainees on campuses with existing CMDA chapters. These interactions may support the well-being of Christian faculty members, strengthen the Christian voice within academic medicine and provide Christian role models as trainees take the next steps into their medical careers. CAPS has four main purposes: 1) encourage Christian academic physicians and scientists; 2) develop effective pathways of Christian ministry for academic physicians and scientists; 3) provide a supportive network and resources to help faculty successfully manage the difficulties of their profession in a Christ-like manner; and 4) offer guidance in making bioethical decisions in medicine and science based on Christian principles.
With the above goals in mind, five founding faculty members across the U.S. came together and formed the CAPS section, with the support of CMDA. The members of CAPS consist of faculty from medicine, dentistry, basic sciences or other healthcare disciplines, and they adhere to CMDA’s Statement of Faith. To date, the section has more than 165 faculty members and scientists from 92 unique institutions. Ironically, our efforts to establish CAPS in early 2020 were facilitated by the pandemic. A desire for fellowship and access to technology enabled formation through alternative teleconferencing platforms.
Thus far, CAPS has adopted several approaches to addressing our proposed goals. These include: (1) monthly webinars by well-known authors or figures in academic medicine or an associated ministry to encourage discourse on topics that may be of interest to our members; (2) formation of small groups consisting of three to five academic believers to share their faith and issues unique to their academic setting; and (3) inaugural funding of a research fellowship to study the relationship between healthcare and faith and to further develop the research career of the awardee through mentorship by scientists in the field.
General themes for the webinars have focused on discipleship, the Christian voice in academia, faculty wellness, research and clinical applications at the intersection of faith and healthcare and effective Christian cultural engagement. Speakers have included Greg Ogden, DMin; Mark A. Noll, PhD; Fabrice Jotterand, PhD; Harold Koenig, MD; Farr A. Curlin, MD; Traci Balboni, MD, MPH; Michael Balboni, PhD; Darrell Bock, PhD; Tyler J. VanderWeele, PhD; John Patrick, MD; and Darrell Bock, ThM, PhD. For 2021, we piloted a new series titled “A Christian’s Walk in Academic Medicine,” which enables faculty members and other nationally recognized Christians in healthcare to share their Christian journey (1 Corinthians 10:31) and provide examples of Christian excellence in academic medicine.
To promote fellowship, the CAPS Quad Squad program was formed based on discussions about Pastor Greg Ogden’s work on discipleship. Its goals were to encourage intentional discussions on faith and fellowship in healthcare, as well as to provide a framework for peer discipleship. The 12 inaugural small groups, termed Quad Squads, participated in a four-week, Zoom-based discipleship program. Each group had three to five CAPS members, one of whom acted as the facilitator. Weekly Zoom meetings centered on discussions about the integration of Christian faith into the four pillars of academic life: research, education, clinical medicine and administration. To equip faculty members with the ability to share the grace of Christ more joyfully and effectively within today’s academic environment, each group member identified opportunities, blessings and challenges within their daily interpersonal relationships with patients and/or their family members, trainees, professional colleagues and superiors. Version 2.0 of Quad Squad lasted four months and focused on effective formation of discipleship. Building on the successes of Quad Squad 1.0 and 2.0, version 3.0 will help like-minded believers establish an identity that can handle both success and failure, as well as provide biblical principles to encourage Christian excellence (Colossians 2:23).
At the same time the national Quad Squads formed, efforts to pilot the formation of local CAPS chapters was championed by Clinical Professor of Medicine at George Washington University Dr. Richard Allman. Dr. Allman developed and established the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia (CAPS-DMV) regional group in October 2020. The CAPS-DMV chapter currently holds webinars on the fourth Tuesdays of each month and has 20 members.
Looking forward to 2022, the CAPS leadership will be working on development of a research fellowship, formation of a scientific speaker’s bureau, growth of Quad Squad and local chapters and development of committees to champion other CAPS initiatives. The CAPS-funded research fellowship on faith and healthcare will enable collaborations with physicians and scientists, such as Drs. Harold Koenig and Farr Curlin at Duke University. The selected faculty member will attend a research fellowship workshop at Duke and will conduct a focused hypothesis-driven project mentored by a group of scientists in the field. The research fellow will present his or her work at one of the monthly CAPS webinars and will submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal. As the CAPS section grows in number and range of specialty and research areas, we will establish a scientific speaker’s bureau and invite faculty members who wish to serve on the speaker’s bureau to summarize their specific areas of scholarly work on the CAPS website.
We encourage like-minded Christian faculty members in healthcare to apply for membership, to participate in our activities and to take an active role in building the CAPS section. Members of CMDA are welcome to participate in CAPS webinars. We encourage faculty members interested in shaping CAPS to contact the executive committee through the CAPS website. We pray CAPS will continue to grow and nurture faculty members serving Christ at academic medical centers in the United States and abroad.
CAPS is a community of Christian academic physicians and scientists who are committed to helping one another discern and live up to our faith-based calling. We endeavor to transform our academic communities through faith, fellowship and scholarship. For more information and to get involved, visit caps.cmda.org. Editor’s Note
The opinions conveyed in this article reflect the personal views of the authors and not those of their employers. Learn More About CMDA’s Specialty Sections
Among all our various ministries, CMDA’s Specialty Sections give you the unique opportunity to equip, network and fellowship with colleagues in your specific healthcare specialty. Organized by CMDA members, the sections listed below provide a wealth of resources for those who wish to connect with their colleagues.
- Addiction Medicine Section
- Christian Academic Physicians and Scientists (CAPS)
- Christian Healthcare Executive Collaborative (CHEC)
- Christian Physical Rehab Professionals (CPRP)
- Christian Surgeons Fellowship
- Coalition of Christian Nurse Practitioners (CCNP)
- Family Medicine Section (FMS)
- Fellowship of Christian Optometrists (FCO)
- Fellowship of Christian Physician Assistants (FCPA)
- Fellowship of Christian Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeons (FCPRS)
- Ultrasound Education (UES)
Don’t see a section for your specialty? New sections are currently under development with CMDA’s Campus & Community Ministries. As we grow our resources for our members to find connection within their specialties, we are also adding to our staff in order to better support and serve these growing outreach ministries. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about getting involved or starting a section.
About the Authors
Kim-Lien Nguyen, MD, is co-chair of CAPS and Associate Professor of Medicine, Radiology and Biomedical Physics at UCLA. She is a cardiovascular imaging scientist and a practicing non-invasive cardiologist. Her funded research focuses on the use of iron-oxide enhanced magnetic resonance imaging in congenital, vascular and ischemic heart disease. Her work has been published in leading imaging journals and her lab receives grant support from the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Health Administration. She attends Pacific Crossroads Church and has a cat.
David L. Bolender, PhD, is vice chair of CAPS and Professor in the Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Bolender teaches clinical anatomy, embryology and cell and tissue biology. He has served on the Curriculum and Evaluation Committee. With Elsevier Publishing, he has created a series of animations for teaching embryology. He helped design a modern anatomy dissection lab as well as an advanced anatomy lab for fresh tissue use by senior medical students, residents and clinical faculty. He also serves as an advisor for the student CMDA chapter at Medical College of Wisconsin.
David L. Larson, MD, is co-chair of CAPS, chair of the Medical Education International (MEI) Advisory Council and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Plastic Surgery at Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Larson is the former Professor and Chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Program Director of that training program for 20 years. He has authored more than 140 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and books. He has a professional life committed to the education of medical students, residents, fellows and peers in head and neck cancer, wound care and reconstruction of all areas of the body.