Mentorship in Uncertain Times
October 6, 2022
by Kathryn Butler, MD
I recently had the pleasure of hosting a medical student in my home for a (mediocre) waffle breakfast (my sub-par cooking, not hers). She was a completing a sub-internship locally, and it was a joy to hear how her faith in Christ had inspired her to practice in resource-poor settings. I listened with a grin on my face as she described her heart for the downtrodden and afflicted, the mentors whose compassion inspired her and how she saw the Lord at work daily in her chosen specialty.
When we discussed residency programs, however, her demeanor suddenly changed. Her enthusiasm fizzled, and her confidence slipped away. When she admitted the residency application process stirred up anxiety, I wrongly assumed she meant the usual stressors of the Match: The competitiveness. The pressure to perform. The uncertainty of where you’ll live and work for the next three to five years. As she explained her situation, however, I found my heart cracking: “I’m struggling, because I think this particular program would be perfect in terms of preparing me for practice,” she said, stabbing her fork at her plate dejectedly, “but they have a very intensive gender transition program that’s a feature of the residency. I don’t know how I could navigate that situation and still remain true to my faith.”
The rigors of medical training have been intense for decades. Those of us who donned the short white coat before work hour restrictions struggled through rounds while nauseous and dizzy from sleep deprivation. Residency constantly teeters back and forth between varying levels of autonomy and supervision, and when the scales tip too far in the either direction, trainees struggle with either inadequate preparation or risk of patient harm. Students and residents sacrifice years of moments with family and in fellowship with the church for the sake of training, and they wrestle with grief, anguish and remorse as they witness suffering, illness and death. The burdens have always been heavy.
Yet in our current era, when the ethical landscape has veered away from a Judeo-Christian worldview, the challenges students and residents face are even more daunting. Students now wrestle with the usual strains of medical training along with challenges to their faith. Assisted suicide, abortion and transgender medicine all confront students with situations in which they have to choose between what modern medicine dictates and what they know to be true in the Bible.
With proposed modifications to the “Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities Clause” of the Affordable Care Act on the horizon, the strain only promises to increase. If passed, this legislation will widely broaden the definition of sex discrimination, and it would require healthcare professionals to perform or assist in gender reassignment surgeries and abortions. In addition, physicians who decline would risk losing Medicare and Medicaid funding. While dedication to the common values of caring for the sick and doing no harm have united healthcare professionals across divides in the past, Christian healthcare students now find themselves in the crucible, with the beliefs they uphold—and in many cases, those that inspired them to pursue healthcare—denigrated and condemned.
As Bill Reichart so helpfully illustrated in his recent article in the fall 2022 issue of CMDA Today, mentorship can be especially life-giving for students during such uncertain times. Medical school offers scant time for worship and Christian fellowship, and when the stressors escalate, the guidance and reassurance of a brother or sister who knows both the walk of discipleship, and the vocation of a clinician, can offer light and air. Thankfully, CMDA provides wonderful resources—with both biblical wisdom and practical advice—to help both mentors and students navigate these turbulent waters. The following are a few such offerings:
- Position Statements – Christian Medical & Dental Associations® (CMDA) – Vetted by the CMDA ethics committee and up to date, these statements combine biblical exegesis with evidence-based research. Especially pertinent topics include right of conscience, transgenderism, abortion, personhood and human sexuality.
- Practical Wisdom in Healthcare – This video series was produced in conjunction with Duke Theology Medicine and Culture graduates.
- Living in a Lab without Smelling Like a Cadaver – CMDA produced a Bible study particularly focused on the challenge of earning and practicing medicine in our era of shifting ethics. The study focuses on the book of Daniel, and it addresses the challenges of living faithfully as a Christian within healthcare.
It’s vital to remind students that even when times appear bleak, hope endures. Like Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6) or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-30), students longing to love neighbor through healing are not alone, even as they increasingly feel like exiles in a hostile land. Across the vast wasteland of the wilderness, as they wandered without a place to rest their heads after their liberation for Egypt, God did not depart from before the people (Exodus 13:22). And He will never depart from those whom He loves, as He promised us: “…behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, ESV).