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Medicine as a Vocation

The field of medicine, one of the so-called “caring professions,” covers a vast number of specialties and generalities, e.g., general practice (GP or family doctor), emergency medicine (EM), surgery, cardiology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology etc. The provision is usually government provided, paid for by taxes (UK) or may be privately owned and paid for by health insurance(USA).

In GP/EM you care for the patients who present by appointment or as an emergency to your surgery or emergency department. This is the “front line” of medicine. From there referrals are made to specialties in hospital if the problem cannot be dealt with by yourself.

In hospital medicine you are referred patients whom you see as an outpatient or care for on a ward. Generally treatments will be medical (drugs) or surgical.

In every specialty you will work with other professions—nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists, pharmacists and secretaries, to name but a few. Good organisation is vital.

There are many positives about being a health care professional, be it doctor or nurse, but I will concentrate on medicine and my own experiences. There is job satisfaction in caring for people and treating them to their satisfaction, always discussing options with them. Many words of appreciation and shaking of hands or thank you letters are encouraging. It is a profession requiring long preparation and study—for me, six years at medical school. The pay is good and hours are much fewer than they used to be (usually 40-48 per week). There is intellectual stimulation: you must continue to study and attend conferences and courses to keep up to date with research and best practice. There is teamwork. For example when an ill or injured patient comes into the resuscitation room, you will be accompanied by another doctor (perhaps a senior),at least one nurse, and perhaps a healthcare assistant (auxiliary). Then the radiographer will do x-rays and a porter will transport the patient to the ward or theatre.

There are negatives, which can be very frustrating and test your grace and patience . First, you will encounter many who are not even sick and are wasting time. Jesus said “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Second, we live in a careless society; we have infertile couples seeking to have a child and next door an unmarried  women seeking an abortion. Many couples you encounter are living in sin, but it is not your place to tell them. There are many  obnoxious people to whom you can do nothing acceptable, myriads of men and women are on paths of  self destruction through smoking, drugs, and alcohol addiction and you have very little to offer them except compassion and pity. “Verily, verily I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34). As in any job, you may have a bad boss who humiliates or abuses you. I had one in my job, though I hasten to add my knowledge base was probably deficient. “Be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward”(1 Peter 2:18).

How was I led into medicine? Although I was a clever student—head boy and sports champion—I was very naive and knew little about the world of work and especially medicine. The requirements were high academic certificates. Nowadays interviews and aptitude tests may be required, but I would say that mature students (who have worked in other fields) have an advantage, and people who genuinely want to serve others are best. As a nominal teenage Christian I remember tearfully praying to the Lord Jesus to guide me as I filled in my university application form and applied for Medicine at Edinburgh in Scotland. One major reason for choosing was that it was one of the most taxing courses and would use my abilities to the full.

How does medicine fulfil God’s mandate to subdue the earth and care for it? You are aware that disease and death resulted from the fall, and so many jobs today are trying to pick up the pieces or ameliorate the effects of the fall upon men’s bodies. We are our brother’s keeper, and we are to love our neighbour. But because of sin and society we have to be paid to care!

Many great advances in medicine and healthcare have been simple measures of hygiene (epidemiology), but vaccination, antibiotics, surgery, and a host of other discoveries have meant that many diseases can be cured and life prolonged.

An esteemed professor taught us that we were able to “cure seldom, alleviate often, and care always.”

As a believer in medicine, your good works should glorify God. The standard of your care should make people wonder: they will notice you are different! Occasionally you will get an opportunity to witness, but generally relationships with colleagues will lead to bridges being built for the gospel. You may be asked why you are always joyful.  The antithesis will be obvious every day as you see slipshod work, laziness, foul language, etc., all around you.

You may enter the field of healthcare in world crisis situations such as Medicin sans frontiers; you may enter the military and be involved in casualties of war. The field of prevention is underfunded and underrated worldwide. The dangers of smoking were only publicized in the 1960s.

What are the benefits in the service of the kingdom? You may be an encouragement to believing patients; you may casually advise people in your fellowship; you are a witness to unbelievers among your patients and colleagues. Your leadership, teamworking,  and intellectual ability will be transferrable into service in the church so long as you maintain your walk with God, pray without ceasing, and grow in grace under the preaching and from personal study.

My advice to potential doctors is to do well at the basic sciences and some humanities at school. Do some first aid courses, get some work experience with a doctor in the community and in hospital. Speak to doctors, paramedics and nurses. Pray (Psalm 32:8) and get advice from parents, teachers and pastor/elders. “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). With all that input and a realistic knowledge of yourself (Rom. 12:3) you should be able to discern if this is your calling(1 Cor. 7:20). By the way—and I struggled with this—a “secular” calling such as medicine is as holy and important as fulltime Christian ministry. Luke, who wrote his gospel and the book of Acts was the beloved physician and companion of Paul on at least one of his missionary journeys. And what a legacy he left in his writings!