"Too Christian" to be a Doctor

I have gathered a collection of insults over the course of my 25 years as a physician. I have been called stupid, old, racist, arrogant, ignorant, too young (okay, this was a long time ago), unkind and once I was even called "a threat to children." This week I became the recipient of a new label. I heard that a specialist colleague told a potential patient that I was “too Christian” to be his primary care doctor.

I was taken aback by the news, surprised that a colleague would view my faith as a negative for my practice. In response to his words I stopped and considered the ways in which my faith has entered into my interactions with patients. I wondered if there were times I had crossed that an invisible line and gone too far, if I had gone from encouragement to offense. I discussed the topic with my staff, not all of whom share my faith and perspective. I realized that there are many ways in which I allow my faith to influence patient care but that these ways have for the most part made me a better person and doctor.  I have described many of them previous posts but decided to take the opportunity to share some the things I do differently because I am a doctor who is a devout Christian.

1-      I pray for my patients, and when appropriate, I pray with my patients. When I do pray in the office, I intentionally avoid denominational or theological lingo. Unless I am certain that the person has a Christian faith, I do not use the name of Jesus (He knows who I am talking to anyway!) I try to carefully assess the patient’s openness and then always ask for permission. Since studies have shown that half of patients actually want this, it seems reasonable. My experience is that patients are grateful for the additional expression of concern.

2-      I try to be more forgiving. My staff says I do this too often, but because of my faith, I intentionally extend more grace when patients are late, non-complaint, or unhappy. The Golden Rule requires it of me. I find my patients are more forgiving of me as a result.

3-      I give more hugs. I continually pray that God will help me love my patients more and serve them better. Overtime this has led me to listen better and care more, which leads to hugs, which seem to be appreciated!

4-      I stand up for my patients more. Since my faith is more concerned with doing right than being accepted, I find myself defending my patients and standing up for their rights. This means going the extra mile in fighting to get medications or therapy approved.

5-      I am more available. My office hours have become more of a suggestion that a rigid rule. When it is truly needed I come in early, stay late or work through my lunch hour. Just this last Saturday I met a patient at the office to suture a hand laceration. I did it because I could.

6-      I am more respectful of my patients time. My faith teaches me that I am no better than anyone else, that my medical degree does nothing to change my standing before God. I am a wretched sinner just like anyone else. This has led me to be more respectful of the time and needs of my patients, and is in large part why I give away Starbucks gift cards when I fall behind schedule!

7-      I often refer to Biblical passages when I talk. Some might call this risky but I have seen it have a powerful impact in my counseling with patients. Truth is truth and wisdom is wisdom and I see no reason to avoid either just because they originate from Scripture. The passages I refer to the most have common applications. I use Adam and Eve to illustrate the truth that people in trouble tend to hide their problems and run from help. I quote the wisdom of Romans 12 to people dealing with depression or addiction as a reminder that we are all broken in our thinking and that trusting in our own thoughts can lead to trouble. Passages such as these are often a source of encouragement to patients.

I am not boasting in this post. None of the behaviors I describe come naturally to me, and for the most part were not a part of my early practice. These things came about through a lot of prayer and a lot of work. I am not by nature a very nice or kind person. I am a Christian who asks God to change me every day, to allow me to be His hands to touch and heal others.

After thinking about it, I have decided that being “too Christian” is a criticism I can willingly accept. It is far better than someone saying I am not Christian enough!

-          Bart

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