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Career - Physician Associate Conversation Series. Faith Testimony Corner

Navigating faith as a Doctor in today’s world.

Estimated reading time: 8-10 mins

This week, I got together with two amazing doctors, very different in backgrounds but interlinked by faith, to have a chat the topic of navigating faith whilst working in the healthcare field. Specifically with Dr Samantha, I have interspersed audio clips of parts of our conversation that particularly touched me and I simply thought would be better listened to. Do have a listen to those! 🙂

Before we dive in, I wanted to make a little disclaimer that we are all diverse in our opinions and perspectives and my aim in this post, is not to debate or create cracks for controversies but to bring ideas for thought on what I consider a challenging but important topic. The views expressed are each clinician’s general experiences and do not reflect the views of each other. I’ve put my conversations with each clinician in the same post to consider the different perspectives.

Speaking out

The professional body that is the General Medical Council (GMC) and other professional bodies (e.g. the NMC) have all issued their guidances on personal beliefs in medical practice.

A couple of excerpts from the GMC:

“Doctors may practise medicine in accordance with their beliefs, provided that they act in accordance with relevant legislation and: 1) do not treat patients unfairly; 2) do not deny patients access to appropriate medical treatment or services; 3) do not cause patients distress.”

“You may talk about your own personal beliefs only if a patient asks you directly about them, or indicates they would welcome such a discussion. You must not impose your beliefs and values on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of them.”

Personal beliefs and medical practice
Gmc-uk.org
https://www.gmc-uk.org/ethical-guidance/ethical-guidance-for-doctors/personal-beliefs-and-medical-practice

An excerpt from the NMC:

20.7. make sure you do not express your personal beliefs
(including political, religious or moral beliefs) to people in
an inappropriate way

NMC: The Code
https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/nmc-publications/nmc-code.pdf

Whilst the GMC do place value on doctors’ personal beliefs, these cannot exploit the vulnerability of patients. There have been a number of case reports of doctors/nurses etc; who have done this very thing with patients in sharing their faith and ended up in trouble with the GMC or their respective professional bodies

“Only if appropriate to the patient’s consultation or if patients bring up the matter themselves, the approach I would take when asking patients about their faith would be, “do you have any religious beliefs?” This gives the patient autonomy.”

Dr T. Davis

“We’re not to speak about our faith [unsolicited] or you know, speak to them privately. Occasionally I have had opportunities to encourage them. I’ve prayed for some, once or twice in a clinical setting when I worked in Namibia (the regulations were different there, and many patients shared the same faith), but of course, with their permission. Legislation does not prevent me from praying for people in my personal time.”

Dr S. Kritzinger

Dr Kritzinger interestingly expressed that there weren’t many Christians in her department or even throughout the whole hospital; that she and her friend Maria, were committed to praying that doors would be opened for colleagues to come to Christ and indeed those prayers were answered. 

Doubt as a Doctor?

Dr Kritzinger and Dr Davis can both agree that this never happened for both of them which they both consider to be a real blessing. I also concur that I don’t think I ever experienced significant doubt of my faith (I talked about this in a previous post). However that isn’t to say doubt doesn’t happen to others. We all have moments in our lives where we do have questions.

“If you know Christ Jesus as your saviour and have a relationship with Him, you develop no doubt. Of course, we are allowed to challenge Him; God said to Job, “come, reason with Me”. Relationship is always two ways. But generally, I’m not one for questioning much – especially when I don’t ultimately have control over a situation. If a person or patient passes away, I don’t know why they have died at that moment, and yes, it really breaks my heart, but at the end of the day, I find His peace alongside this. And I know that did my very best for that individual in my professional capacity”.

Dr S. Kritzinger

“It comes as no surprise that the job is challenging and stressful at times such as when you have had a bad day with multiple sick patients or difficult situations. However, what has sustained me on this journey from getting into medical school and now working as a doctor is God’s many promises like that he will never leave me nor forsake me. Furthermore, I believe that he has uniquely placed me within this field to be a blessing to others including patients and colleagues. It therefore, fills me with so much peace that I know that every aspect of my journey in life has and continues to be orchestrated by him.”    

Dr T. Davis

Expressing faith

Particularly with Dr Kritzinger, it was so eye-opening to hear the experiences and differences that come with faith and working in medicine between Namibia/South Africa and here; the U.K. Interestingly when Samantha worked on ICU in Namibia, every morning, at the start of the shift, all the ICU nurses (all from a variety of ethnic backgrounds) would stand together in a circle at the nurse’s station and praise and worship God, and pray. It was so amazing and such a blessing she expressed, for her to experience.

“Here it’s very different because we know that fellow Christian (and other faith groups) healthcare professionals have been prosecuted because of being perceived to be using their faith as a leverage, or forcing it onto an individual, in a vulnerable position. I’m not sure that was always the intention, but people have taken offence.”

Dr S Kritzinger

Dealing with suffering.

Navigating the topic of suffering will never be clear cut however it is a commonly asked question. Why is there suffering? I believe it is interesting to consider how we as healthcare professionals deal with the concept of suffering as it’s even more important to consider a patient’s faith in helping them cope with their suffering. We must consider the different faiths and beliefs that patients adhere to when working with them. Working in healthcare gives us a position in helping to minimise/ease that suffering.

“It is heart breaking seeing people – patients – who are physically broken with medical ailments. Having major surgery will deal with the problem they present with; enough to improve their quality of life – for example pain from arthritis which can be eased by a joint replacement, or extend their life – for example having cancer surgery. But there may be at significant risk of a decline in their quality of life as a result of their medical conditions letting them down during major surgery and recovery period. For instance, the risk of pneumonia, or risk of a heart attack which could worsen their quality of life.

However, the majority of patients will survive with good and even an improved quality of life, otherwise we would not be offering them surgery! But for those where, as a medical professional, you know that major surgery could cost them their life, or leave them in a much worse physical state, altering their quality of life, in my mind, I think, I would love to ask them if I could pray for them, as medically speaking we are limited to what we can do. I would love to tell them that I know a God who can do way more than what any healthcare professional can do. I think we are in a beautiful position to offer holistic care for any person, without preying on their vulnerability, of course!”

Dr S. Kritzinger

“I think that people can easily question the existence of God when there is so much suffering around. Nevertheless, one perspective that has helped me to reconcile these thoughts is that Jesus underwent the ultimate suffering bearing all of our sins on the cross despite being blameless. Therefore, my take on this is that God absolutely does care about our individual circumstances of suffering and works all things out for good even when we do not necessarily see it at the time.  Romans 8:28 says: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This Bible verse has provided me with so much comfort in those difficult periods of life.”

Dr T. Davis

Considering the patient holistically.

When we work with patients, we aren’t just dealing with physical health issues but we deal a lot of the time with the emotional and mental. Therefore, it is always important to treat the patient as a whole being and not just the condition or a patient number. We have to accept as clinicians that we won’t always be able to “fix” everything. Dr Kritzinger and I specially went into this topic of how far can we go as healthcare works with our humane abilities?

“The NHS is fantastic – I absolutely applaud what it is able to offer patients and people, though it is not a limitless resource. However, sometimes I feel that the source of some physical issues, which may be very deep seated in behaviour, addiction, pain, etc is not addressed, and therefore the treatment which is offered often will not be long lasting. If I have depression, a tablet is not going to fix the root of the problem; if there is one – though it will alleviate the symptoms. The person may need further help, and as the body of Christ, we can play a part & be involved. Why can the church not be allowed to hold hands with the NHS and offer them this?

Even the broken hearted, such sadness when somebody has been diagnosed with cancer. I just want to give them a hug and say, “I feel for you. I don’t know what you’re going through because I’ve not been there myself, but I know that Jesus loves you and wants to hold you and can rescue you from this world.” Some people don’t get healed and their family and friends are hurting. But they can know that there is a Saviour and that there is a life of eternity after death. And do they know where they are going? What can we as Christians do about this?

Dr S Kritzinger

Is there room for faith in medicine?

Over time I have come to realise the deep burden on my heart to bridge the gap between the Christian faith and healthcare. I believe there is no one better than Jesus who can heal; that is my personal belief. However it is also my job as a healthcare professional to work in partnership with patients and maintain a role as an advocate for their overall health irrespective of different beliefs. I have been asked questions surrounding God and suffering by patients & I haven’t had all the answers; (nor was it really appropriate to get into a debate about it). I don’t know why the 4 year old died of cancer or the teenager with so much going for them is killed by a drunk driver. I don’t have the answer to those why’s. But I know my God does not delight in the suffering of His people but He walks with us in our suffering and comforts us.

“Faith/religion is a very important aspect of a patient’s health and a healthcare professional should take these religious beliefs into consideration when making decisions about patient care for a multitude of reasons. For instance, certain patients’ beliefs affect how they perceive illness, the severity of their illness or their view on treatments proposed. It may be the case that some patients would rather opt for complementary and alternative medicines rather than traditional Western medicine treatments.

For me personally, I use my job as a Doctor where I am serving and look after some of the most vulnerable people within our society as an act on worship unto God. It is a real honour and privilege to do this and make a difference to peoples’ lives on a daily basis.”  

Dr T. Davis

“I think there is definitely! [room for faith in medicine] Whether the system allows that, is different.  I think wherever you are, whatever profession you’re in, if you’re a Christian, you know that you can’t do your work without God in the mix. Some people won’t acknowledge that, but it can be the same for you.

We are all mind, body and spirit. Our spirit needs to connect with Spirit.  If mindfulness works for so many people, which is basically meditation, then imagine what prayer and walking with the Holy spirit can accomplish! We have to accept that not all people will accept Christ, however there is always room for Him because there are people out there longing to dig deeper. God’s mercy and His grace is freely available for everyone!”

Dr S. Kritzinger

Dr Davis’s advice to you.

Tip: Be nice to everyone and learn the names of every person you work with on your rotations or placements. This goes for any person you work with! It does not matter who they are, whether they are the chief executive, a senior hospital consultant or a member of the housekeeping team etc. Everyone has a significant role to play in optimising patient care and it’s not only the role of doctors. You will be surprised that if you ask a person their name, how much they appreciate that as it shows they are valued and significant.”

Dr Kritzinger’s advice to you.

Work unto God and not unto men. We just need to keep going strong in our faith and not neglect our relationship with God. It’s no easier without him and I can guarantee people that. I can say it is a true honour and such a blessing to be in this position, working with people who are very vulnerable and letting God work through us. Just stand in your faith and don’t be anxious.”

I hope that this week’s read has been thought provoking and has given an insight into how faith & healthcare can interlink. The line between expressing faith as a healthcare professional is a tricky wire to balance on. But I hope this has been objective but interesting!

If you have any questions or you have felt touched by this post, please do like, share & leave a comment so we can just all share the love 🙂

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