Engage Your Campus
Around 6 p.m. on any given Tuesday night from August to May, cars begin to line the street in front of our house and medical students from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine parade into our home. Together, we share a home-cooked meal, praise God with worship songs, participate in a Bible study and hang
by Jerry Hric, MD
Around 6 p.m. on any given Tuesday night from August to May, cars begin to line the street in front of our house and medical students from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine parade into our home. Together, we share a home-cooked meal, praise God with worship songs, participate in a Bible study and hang out afterward for a time of fellowship. In the last five years, we have hosted about 150 gatherings, served more than 2,000 meals and met hundreds of students. But how did this all start?
A little over five years ago, Dr. Eric Bantz, a fellow physician, put me in contact with Bryan Stoudt, the local CMDA Philadelphia Area Director. Brian made me aware of a small group of Christian students who were meeting at a medical school just 10 minutes from our home. They were looking for a physician mentor to help them. My wife and I met with the leader of the group and birthed a plan to host a weekly dinner and Bible study in our home. This would become the start of an intense and exciting series of ministry opportunities God laid before us.
New Jersey is one of the most ethnically diverse states in the United States. Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine intentionally recruits an ethnically diverse student population. Over the last five years, we have had students in our home whose families are from all over the world. At last count, we have had the opportunity to meet students hailing from 22 different countries. My wife Susan says, “Every Tuesday night, we open the door and watch the world walk in.” We have learned so much from these students as they have shared their customs, their food and their unique perspectives on God and worship.
In addition to our Tuesday night studies, we also make ourselves available to meet with students one-on-one for counseling, encouragement and prayer. Medical school can be a fragile time for a countless number of students. It is often a time wrought with insecurities, loneliness, depression and relational difficulties. We have had the sacred privilege to accompany students as they have wept over broken engagements, confided in us about their battles with depression and struggled with their choice to pursue medicine as a career. As we have offered hugs, a listening ear, words of encouragement and especially prayer, we have often seen God bring healing and wholeness in these struggles.
Getting to know the students on a deeper level has also opened up other ministry opportunities. We have had the privilege to offer premarital counseling to two couples. One summer we hosted a six-week study on marriage for physicians, residents, medical students and their spouses. Susan also started a Side By Side chapter for wives of healthcare professionals that offers encouragement, especially to wives whose husbands are in residency. (Side By Side is a ministry of CMDA with more than 60 chapters across the country. For more information and to get involved, visit www.cmda.org/sidebyside.)
As a physician executive, my schedule has been flexible enough to meet with students on campus for lunch, serve a few years as a panelist for the Pediatric Club and be available to attend other student activities. I even participated in a table tennis tournament and came in second place! My presence on campus also afforded me the opportunity to get to know the dean of the school, Dr. Thomas Cavalieri. After meeting with Dean Cavalieri, he invited me to become a voluntary adjunct faculty and later a clinical assistant pediatric professor. I started providing shadowing experiences in neonatology for students. In addition, about a year ago Dean Cavalieri invited me to be on the dean’s advisory council that meets quarterly to support his initiatives and give him advice.
The dean wanted me to share with his medical students the same business principles I learned from my business coach. My business coach for 16 years, Richard Zalack, gave permission to use his proprietary information for the medical students. I then created a course entitled “How to Survive and Thrive in Medical School, Residency and Life,” which was approved by the curriculum committee for credit. This year, the dean wanted me to add workshops on character development. As a result, I am now presenting 16 times throughout the first semester, for 45 minutes during lunch each Monday. Topics include compassion, balance, goal setting, humility, transparency and forgiveness.
Last March, my wife and I took six medical students and two pre-med students on a Global Health Outreach mission trip to the Dominican Republic. The experience included partnering with a wonderful host church from Santiago, working alongside local physicians and caring for the physical needs of medically underserved people in the Dominican Republic. The trip was a blessing to all who attended, and several of the students voiced the desire to incorporate healthcare missions into their lives on a regular basis as a result of the trip.
In reflecting on the trip, Anne Oh, a third year medical student said, “This mission trip was life changing for me. I can only imagine how cliché that sounds, but really, there are no other words to describe it. I cannot point at one single thing and identify it as what changed me, but rather, it was how everything unfolded that allowed me to see and experience God’s love.” We plan to return to the Dominican Republic in March 2017 with another group of students.
Of course, we have not done this alone. Physicians from the South Jersey chapter of CMDA have engaged with us to reach out to students. One couple attends the Tuesday night gatherings at our home and serves as mentors to the students. Some physicians have had students over for dinner or met with them for lunch in the hospital cafeteria. Other physicians have permitted students to shadow them in their offices, giving them a chance to get to know them personally and engage them in conversations about life and faith. Several physicians gave financial contributions to the mission trip in order to make it possible for all the interested students to attend. After hearing the students’ excitement about their mission trip, one physician donated a wheelchair that was taken to the Dominican Republic on a subsequent trip. Local Christian physicians regularly speak to the Tuesday night group, sharing how they incorporate their faith into their practices or spiritual lessons they are learning. We are grateful to partner with our local attending CMDA chapter to minister to students.
When you see it all written out on paper, I’m so amazed by all that God has allowed us to accomplish in just a few short years. Weekly dinners, Bible studies, lunch meetings, open doors for new ministry on campus, mission trips and so much more. And it all started because we were open to God’s leading to get involved and engage with our local campus.
So I encourage you to take this opportunity to get engaged with a CMDA campus chapter in your community. As our ministry with students on the local campus continues to develop, here are some specifics we have learned that might be helpful to you as you get started:
- Maintain a two-hour time frame for a weekly gathering. For the dinners and Bible studies we hold at our house, we are very intentional about beginning at 6 p.m. and ending promptly at 8 p.m., so the students can return to their studies.
- The home environment is extremely impactful. A change of venue that affords the opportunity to pet a dog, play Ping-Pong or play a game of basketball helps relieve stress and gives them a “home-away-from-home.”
- Welcome ALL who come. Though this is a Christian ministry, we often tell students we are all on a spiritual journey and everyone is welcome. We have had Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain students join us for Bible study. We encourage the non-Christians who are attending to learn about Christianity so they can better understand and serve their future Christian patients.
- Social media is important. The students have a Facebook group they use to communicate upcoming events. I will admit I am not great with this, but as Susan drags me into social media literacy, I am finding entirely new avenues of communication and relationship with the students.
- Be aware and sensitive to their schedules. We have discovered that planning events to occur within a few days after exams is most optimal. For example, we host a “pizza and game night” at our house each semester after major exams.
My wife and I never imagined we would be involved with medical students, but looking back over the last five years, our lives have been so much richer for having followed God’s initial promptings.
How is God calling you to get involved? CMDA has campus chapters on more than 270 campuses across the country, and they need healthcare professionals to engage with them and invest in them as they seek to live out the character of Christ on their campuses. Perhaps you can do what we did and start with a regular Bible study. Or maybe you can carve out time in your schedule to join students for lunch on campus. Don’t let it seem overwhelming and just start small. God can use even a small act to make a vast difference in the lives of these students. And then who knows where God will lead you from there?