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Making Christian Service Reality During Medical School, by Amber Featherstone

Practically speaking, this has given me somewhere to turn when I have had difficult questions concerning my faith and how it impacts my presence in medicine as a student and, in the future, as a physician. I would not hesitate to say that the same people who have encouraged me when I have faced these issues have also challenged me. They have kept me accountable for the mission to which God called me as a child, when I accepted him as my Savior.

As a medical student, that calling has led me down several different avenues. During my second year, I was encouraged and prayed for by my community as I helped to plan a spring break medical mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. This opportunity fell right in line with the specific people-group with whom I believe God has been preparing me to serve for over ten years.

As a third—year student, I was invited to participate in a Hindu discussion group with several classmates who had grown up with these teachings as the basis for their worldview. Every week as we met for worship, my church joined me in praying for this group and the individuals involved.

During my fourth year, I find myself with several months of elective rotations or personal time, whichever I choose. The mentors who were so faithful in previous years have not failed me in my final year of medical school. They have told stories about the places they visited as fourth-year students, and they wished for me similar vision-defining experiences, in accordance with the call God has placed on my life.

What a blessing to have wonderfully informed, caring individuals on whom to call for guidance! I wish for every medical student such a nurturing Christian environment.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that many classmates find the process of pursuing fourth-year-away rotations very frustrating and beyond their limited resources. Even worse, many seem to have lost any hope of pursuing God’s calling for Christians to reach out to the poor during their time as medical students. Scripture does not qualify our call as limited to the time following completion of training. After all, what were the disciples if not men-in-training? Jesus specifically gave them the task of healing while he was still with them.

His reason for sending the disciples was his compassion toward the masses “because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). He brought together his disciples and gave them “authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (Matthew 10:1). His specific directions were that the disciples should “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).

Perhaps Jesus has not endowed you with authority over unclean spirits (perhaps that will come during residency), but he certainly expects that you will clothe him or visit him in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). You can never be sure when someone may need clothing or a visit, and Scripture certainly implies that we should take the opportunity to meet these needs when they are presented to us. Paul continued his preaching and welcoming of all, even while he himself was under house arrest (Acts 28:30—31). Do not put your mission on hold until you escape the prison of medical training. (As far as I know, medicine will continue to change and require our constant attention in the future to maintain adequate knowledge to treat our patients in the appropriate manner. If our mission is postponed for now, we may lose it altogether.)

Electives during medical school are an excellent time to look for where God might be calling you to serve. What more appropriate time than prior to residency to find out What type of medicine seems to best fit the call that God has given you as a Christian. This is also a good opportunity to see how Christian physicians treat their patients differently You may be surprised how your vision can be enlightened and revived after spending time at clinics where the medical care you hoped to provide when you entered medical school is truly given - you know, the underserved population that you described to the admissions staff, the ones you may have given up on altogether after a few reminders of the cost of malpractice insurance).

If you are not blessed with medically-oriented Christians who have blazed a trail before you, I hope that you will find the next few suggestions useful.

First, as you might have guessed, start with those you know. If you know Christian residents from church or from the wards, ask them where they have been. After speaking with members of my Christian community, I have found opportunities to go to Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago, Illinois (www.lawndale.org) for a month. I am also currently planning a trip to Shell, Ecuador, in the spring for a rotation with HCJB World Radio at Hospital Vozandes (www.hcjb.org, look under healthcare). Fellow students have given glowing reviews about their participation in the Summer Medical Institute after their first year in medical school (www.thesmi.org).

Christian fellowships at your medical school may offer additional resources, although you may have to meet a number of new people before you find someone with a similar vision. Do not stop there. If you believe God has called you to a particular type of ministry, whether specific to a people-group or geographic location, ask those you know if they know others who share similar interests. Other Christian medical students have often had missions experience prior to beginning training and could direct you to a missions agency that shares your vision.

Second, look for resources within your denomination or through particular sending agencies. Talk to the minister at your church and ask about mission opportunities. Your home church may send teams on short-term medical mission trips. If you know that your denomination has 21 missions program, contact them directly to find out if they have any opportunities specifically for medical students. For example, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has a medical preceptorship program that offers medical students an opportunity to be involved in medical missions in several different countries. If the organization has not previously hosted medical students, you may ask if there are any physicians in the organization. It may be possible to set up a rotation through the physician rather than the missions organization.

There are also innumerable independent missions agencies that do medical mission work. If you are not already familiar with particular agencies, you may try looking at websites that provide lists of different agencies. For example, to find a very long list of missions agencies that will have exhibits at the Urbana missions conference in January 2004, go to the “MSearch” site in the Urbana website: http://www.urbana.org/ ns.ms.agency.efm. The World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission has a site listing over three thousand missions organizations, schools, and support agencies worldwide: www.globalmission.org. Then, look under tools and search in the World Mission Directory. You might also try www.gospelcom.nct.

Also look at the list of missions organizations associated with Gospelcom.net: http://www.gospelcom.net/ content/missionsl. You may also consider attendance at the Global Missions Health Conference, which is the largest medical missions conference in the world (see www.medicalmissions.com). If you cannot make it to the conference, you can look at the list of exhibitors, which includes many medical missions agencies. This site also offers good explanations and contact numbers for each of the agencies: http: //www.medicalmissions.com/exhibitors.html.

Finally, don’t forget to check out our own CCHF, which has a list of preceptors (and their clinic locations throughout the United States) who share the vision of reaching out to the poor and underserved. Go to www.cchf.org, then click”Engage” and choose “Preceptorship Directory.”

Third, look for opportunities within your own community. Your local Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) chapter may be able to put you in contact with a Christian physician in your community who is involved in outreach in a particular capacity. You can look at the CMDA website (www.cmdahome.org) under networking, then under “Regional Graduate and Student Ministries” to get the name of the director of your local chapter of CMDA. Click on your region of the country, then on “Student Chapters.” The CMDA website also offers the chance to search their directory for Christian physicians in your area, by specialty. Look under “Networking,” then “Christian Doctor Search.” CMDA may also be a good resource for funding. You may contact the regional director for help in this area.

There may be faith-based organizations near your home that would allow students to be involved in their work for a period of time. When I performed an internet search for “faith-based organizations in Dallas” I ended up with a page full of links to organizations in my community. It is probably safe to assume that there are at least a few faith-based organizations in your area. If they do not have the capacity to host a medical student for an entire month, you may consider combining several one-week or once-a-week experiences to gain an understanding of several different methods of providing Christ-centered care. Faculty members who are involved in teaching community medicine or spirituality-in-medicine rotations may be able to tell you where students have been involved and had good experiences in the past. They may also be willing to help you set up rotations through faith-based organizations.

I urge you: do not neglect your calling as a Christian during medical training. Make yourself available for God’s service, and don't underestimate what God can do through and within you, if you are willing. Being available may mean planning ahead. This process should begin with participation in a community of believers who will hold you accountable for becoming more like Christ even during your medical training. When you are presented with opportunities to interact with people who are seeking answers to life’s more eternal questions, you need to be prepared. You cannot afford to be on vacation from your spiritual life while you are in medical training. We are not promised another opportunity to interact with the colleagues - and patients - whom we encounter during training.

The subject of medicine often leads to deeper questions concerning the meaning of life and death and often fosters deep thought about these issues. Take advantage of your environment. Seek God’s guidance concerning those activities in which he would have you invest your limited time.

When given time off from school requirements, look for exposure to Christian medical environments where God might use you in the future, following your training. Let your vision be renewed through these experiences. Once you have found a place to go, remember that your church and friends will probably be happy to support you through prayer and even financially. Then, remember to encourage and challenge future generations of Christian medical students.

Amber Featherstone was a fourth year medical student at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas when she wrote this for the 2003, Number 4 edition of  The Apprentice.

Serving Christ during medical school is not easily accomplished alone. During medical school,being involved in a Christ-centered, medically oriented community has helped me to maintain a Christian focus. Oak Lawn Christian Community has been my church home for almost three years, since its inception. Because other members of my church community are also involved in the medical field, I have had godly mentors and examples placed before me.