Confessions of Cultural Heretics

"When the whole world is running headlong towards the precipice, one who walks in the opposite direction is looked on as being crazy." T.S. Elliot

Archive for the category “Medical School”

Snowballing at last

As we have mentioned in a previous post, Brian and I went through Dave Ramsey’s course called Financial Peace University when we were engaged. This class had a huge impact on our relationship and helped us to get on the same page about money and set up a long term game plan. Our first goal was to each get an emergency fund in place and then to start attacking our student loan debt. After we married, we combined our incomes and formed a new, written budget every month, which we have done every month since. Although our income was by no means huge, we were able to pay off a few of the smallest loans in just a few months. 

Then came our first pregnancy and Brian’s acceptance to medical school (both of which we were hoping for). This changed our position tremendously. We both felt strongly about me staying at home with our baby, yet also felt convicted to find a way to pay for medical school without putting our family into $150,000+ further into debt. I was able to find a temp job after our move which covered much of our living expenses until the baby was born, but didn’t touch the cost of Brian’s first semester of med school. Every avenue we had pursued came to nothing and we knew we needed to make some tough decisions if we were going to remain committed to avoiding taking on any additional debt while Brian pursued his degree.

So after much prayer and soul searching, Brian joined the Navy (something he had pondered since college, but I wasn’t too keen on at that time). We banked the sign- on bonus for a large emergency fund, and lived off our monthly stipend. Although our monthly stipend wasn’t much, I was able to supplement our income a bit from tutoring and became a true home economist to keep our expenses down. By the grace of God, we were able to ride out the remaining three and a half years without adding to our debt, despite cash flowing two pregnancies and deliveries, a major dental procedure and the purchase of a van.

Fast forward to the present and we are thrilled to be able to press play once again and begin attacking our debt with a vengeance. We just paid off  my last student loan ($9190.82), using the money we had been saving for emergencies during medical school. Only $39423 to go! Target date to being debt free: June 2014. We’ll keep you posted.



Back to the Blog

No, we have not fallen off the face of the earth, but we have had A LOT going on in the past few months to justify our neglect of the blog since our last post in (gasp!) March.

So here’s a quick catch up on our lives:

Brian finished his medical school training, completed Officer Development School with the Navy, received the Lucas County Family Medicine Award, graduated from University of Toledo Medical School, was promoted to Lieutenant, moved all of us from Ohio to North Carolina in two days and began his residency with the Naval Hospital. So you can call him Dr. Burke or Lt. Burke and help him remember he’s not a med student anymore!

What has been keeping me busy these past few months has been purely domestic. The house is mostly settled, Killian is almost 20lbs, teething and army crawling, and Joseph is completely potty trained (I think I deserve a diploma for that).

We are enjoying our new house with a lot more open space both inside and out for the kids to explore. In general this move has been a smooth adjustment, except for the BUGS. We have daily lessons in Living in the South, which have included instruction in identifying and avoiding  fire ant hills, snakes, spiders and other insects of unusual size. But on the plus side, we live 15 minutes from a beautiful beach, get a cooling breeze most evenings off of the ocean and have a persimmon tree in our back yard.

So here we find ourselves, a family of Catholic Northerners, in the heart of the Bible Belt, where the fields are full of tobacco and sweet potatoes, and everyone calls me ma’am. This should be an experience for sure.


Toledo Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally- Updated with Video of Speech

On Friday I had the great honor of being one of the speakers for the Toledo Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally.  I was able to join on stage an  Rev. Mark Hodges, pastor of St. Stephen Orthodox Church in Lima, Sister Cecilia Mary Sartorius, mother superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Oregon, Monica Martinez of the Diocese of Toledo, and Bishop Leonard Blair in speaking out against this atrocious mandate.  Here is the speech that I gave:

Good Afternoon! I am honored to be speaking before you all.  I am so glad to see so many individuals standing up for religious freedom!  I am a medical student at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and will be starting my training as a family physician in June.  My wife and I have also been teaching NFP in Toledo for the past three years.  As a soon to be doctor, the fight against this mandate is extremely important to me.

I wanted to first speak to you in my capacity as a medical professional.  From my perspective and that of many physicians around the country, this mandate does not make medical sense.  Now, I am not talking about the morality of contraception or even the health concerns of side effects of hormonal contraception and sterilization, but rather the fact that the government is mandating that we cover a medication and procedure that destroys a healthy physiologic state and that we are supposed to call this preventative care.   A recent post of the blog Catholic Vote made an excellent point in regards to the Affordable Care Act and subsequent clarifications (under which this Mandate falls): She writes:  You know that old sesame street song: “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” Among the conditions targeted [In this act] are alcoholism, depression, HIV, syphilis, diabetes, breast cancer, and fertility.  Which of these things just doesn’t belong?

This attitude that our government has taken towards fertility simply baffles me.  This just  isn’t good medicine.  But then again, this Mandate is not about medicine.  Rather this Mandate is about the erosion of religious liberty and conscience rights in the United States.   Once the government is able to force us to pay for contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients, then how long before hospitals and physicians will be forced to perform sterilizations or physicians be forced to write the prescriptions?  How long before you all are unable to receive healthcare that respects your beliefs?

The success of this mandate will be measured by how quickly and effectively Catholics and Christians are driven out of healthcare and education completely.  It is about how the government can keep Catholic and Christian businessmen and women from being successful, and it is about restricting which professions and jobs we can pursue. For if we are to be adhere to the teachings of our Faith and follow our conscience, how can we keep our Hospitals, Universities, and businesses open?  And when these close and we are out of work, they win.

We cannot let this happen.  We are the frontline in the defense of religious liberty and conscience protection.  This is not just about protecting institutions, but about protecting the religious liberty of the individual, for that is whom the First Amendment is written.  It is our individual witness, each and every day, that is going to turn this tide.  We must tell our family, friends, and colleagues what is going on and the Truth about this Mandate.  There are many misconceptions about this Mandate and distortions in regards to why we are opposing it.  I have had to face down colleagues and my superiors in defense of our religious liberty in the very hospitals in Toledo.  And there many fellow Catholics and other Christians who have no idea that this fight is even occurring.   And so We must stand up and be willing to be Martyrs in defense of our Faith and religious liberty, to show this country that we will not back down, and I pray that through this all, we will prevail and regain the freedom that is rightfully ours.

We had an excellent turnout with estimates around 1000 people!  There were many priests, religious, families, and business men and women present in the crowd.  I was amazed at the turn out and so happy to see so many concerned with this issue.  We even had media coverage which was for the most part non-biased.  I was interviewed by the local Fox Affiliate, which you can watch here:

We had coverage by the local paper, the ABC affiliate, and the CBS affiliate, as well as the local Catholic paper The Catholic Chronical.

And here is a video of the Bishop’s address to the crowd.

I will try to keep posting pictures and videos as they come available.



The Physician’s Calling


The Physician’s Calling: To Embrace His Role in the Physical and Spiritual Wellbeing of His Patient


By Brian J Burke

The practice of medicine has been transformed over the past century by the ever increasing technological advances.  This progress has lead to the saving of countless lives, eradication of diseases, extension of life spans, and the alleviation of suffering.  And yet, this increase in knowledge and technology is a double edged sword, for the physical aspects of disease and suffering have become the sole focus of both the physician and patient, while the metaphysical and spiritual aspects have been lost or rejected.[1] The consequence of this has been a spiritual crisis in medicine where neither the physician, nor the patients are able to adequately endure the suffering that cannot be eradicated.  This spiritual crisis continues to have negative impacts on the physician-patient relationship, undermining trust and the ability for complete physical, mental, and spiritual healing to occur.  This crisis can be overcome by approaching medicine through a Catholic paradigm in which the physician must embrace his full vocation as one who brings healing not only to the body, but also helps the patient to recognize the redemptive value of his suffering and to return to the Sacraments of Healing[2] in order to obtain the complete physical and spiritual healing that God gives.  The goal of this paper is to establish the fullness of the physician’s vocation by showing how the physician partakes in Christ and His Church’s redeeming mission through the field of medicine, discuss suffering and its salvific nature, and finally, show the spiritual role the physician plays in the physician-patient relationship.

Christ himself is the Divine Physician[3].  When He revealed the heart of his redemptive mission, he said “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”[4] So to care for the dying and the sick, health care workers actively participate in the divine mission by providing life, both to the body and to the soul, for man cannot be seen as only one or the other.  The health care worker imitates Christ as the Good Samaritan[5] and acts as minister of God through the outpouring of love for the suffering person.  And is not loving those who suffer the role of every Christian and of the Church?  This is a part of the mission of redemption that marks the existence of the Spouse of Christ.

In the Charter for Health Care Workers, Blessed John Paul II is quoted as saying that “the Church…has always seen medicine as an important support for its own redeeming mission to humanity.  In fact, service to man’s spirit cannot be fully effective except it be service to his psycho-physical unity.”[6]  In his address to the World Congress of Catholic Doctors, Blessed John Paul II says that Christ, being “the physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation even among her own members.”[7]  These works of healing are done on the priestly level through the sacraments of anointing and reconciliation, which are joined to the works of the doctors and nurses and other health care professionals.  The work of such a professional has the same object, the human person, as that of the pastor.  Both ministers act to orientate the suffering individual to the Cross of Christ.

Suffering is the paramount problem of man’s existence.  “Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life.  In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude.  Every illness can make us glimpse death.”[8]  It is through the action of Adam and Eve that sin was brought into the world, and with it, suffering and death.  The story of man’s attempt to evade both suffering and death is the stuff of ageless legends and the impetus to seek both the ancient and modern remedies that might stave off such a fate.  Simply consider the 20th century and the number of procedures and medications that are designed to end pain and anguish.  It is easy enough to buy Aspirin or Tylenol over the counter at the local drug store or to go to your doctor and ask him to prescribe something stronger.  Even in the area of childbirth, a woman has free access to enough drugs to numb her body from the waist down, thus allowing her to escape the curse of Eve.  And today’s healthcare is full of promises to slow or reverse the process of aging and the physical and mental suffering that accompanies it.  This is not to say that pain medication or the avoidance of pain and suffering is immoral or should not be employed.  Rather these points are only to show the attitude of the general public in regards to the ability and desire to avoid suffering as much as humanly possible.  This aim in many cases can be quite appropriate given the debilitating nature of the various forms of suffering.  Even the Catechism recognizes that “illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God.”[9]   However, the avoidance of suffering and pain can be taken too far.  For some, it has become something overwhelmingly evil and must be eradicated at all costs, even at the cost of rejecting their God.  This is the danger that man faces when he does not recognize the redeemed nature of suffering that has been brought about through Christ’s passion.  Whereas it is not wrong for man to desire an end to suffering, he must also simultaneously embrace it for his greater good, for though “suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil…Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation.”[10]  With this understanding suffering can be viewed as a gift from God; as a way for man to work towards his salvation.

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians of the relationship of suffering and the Cross.  He says, “I fill up in my body what is wanting to the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body which is the Church.”[11]  This reflects the new meaning of the suffering of man.  No longer is it simply the curse, but now it is the blessing of God.  Just as the doctor takes part of the salvific mission of the Church through the ministry to the sick, those who are sick and suffering take part in the redeeming mission of Christ.  In the words of John Paul II, “On the cross, Christ made his own all the weight of evil and took away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29), of which sickness is but a consequence.  By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given new meaning to suffering: now it can configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive passion.”[12]  By his death and resurrection,Christ has redeemed the world.  In that action he has allowed the suffering man to partake in that redemption and within this new meaning of suffering for the Christian, there is a threefold salvific attitude that exists:

an ‘awareness’ of its reality ‘without minimizing it or exaggerating it’; ‘acceptance,’ ‘not with a more or less blind resignation’ but in the serene knowledge that ‘the Lord can and wishes to draw a good from evil’; ‘the oblation,’ ‘made out of love for the Lord and one’s brothers and sisters.’[13]

To consider these three points in another way, one can use the words knowledge, trust, and action.  In that awareness there is knowledge of the nature of the illness and suffering and of the cross which is to be borne.  This is critical, because as Pope JohnPaulII(from whom this threefold salvific attitude comes) said, the patient neither wants to minimize or exaggerate it, but rather embrace it as it truly is.  Through the acceptance there must be a trust in the Lord.  The patient must realize that in his Incarnation and Passion, “Christ has raised human suffering to the level of redemption.”[14]  In this way, Suffering becomes not a cruel punishment but a means of salvation, and so the patient must rejoice in the opportunity to suffer because it has been allowed by the Lord, who desires the salvation of all.  The third part of this attitude is action.  The oblation of whichJohnPaul speaks requires that action must be taken.  It may only be an interior movement of the will, but nonetheless it is essential for this suffering to be fruitful.  The patient needs to consciously make the decision to offer up this suffering on behalf of the body ofChrist.  In this way, not only will the graces be obtained, but the psychological affect will be greater.  Through his suffering, the patient has entered into the redemptive act ofChrist and it is the physician’s role to help orientate the patient towards this end.

The ministerial journey of Christwas filled with numerous healings.  He had a great compassion towards the sick and infirm and “his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that ‘God has visited his people’ and that the Kingdomof Godis close at hand…He has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of.”[15]  Christ, as stated before, is the Divine Physician.  He had such a compassion for the sick and suffering that he “took our infirmities and bore our diseases”[16] when he was “like a sheep…led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer.”[17]  His sacrifice was his ultimate act of healing for each individual who would profess his name.  Moreover, it was a renewal of the world, a healing of a world torn apart by sin. To inaugurate this healing of the worldChrist first healed those whom he had come into the world to redeem.  In each miracle he performed to heal the body, he also was healing the soul of that individual.  However, His healing ministry was not limited to his lifetime nor did it end with his death and resurrection, but rather He has set the example for his disciples and called them on to continue this ministry in the salvation of the world.

At a point during His ministry, Christsent His disciples into the world.  He “gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.”[18]  In this command, the disciples were called to act as the Good Samaritan to those they encountered.  This parable “witnesses to the fact that Christ’s revelation of the salvific meaning of suffering is in no way identified with an attitude of passivity.”[19]  Rather, Christ commanded his disciples to action, to bring healing both in the physical and spiritual realms to those they encountered.  This command and action was not limited to the lifetime of Christ, but went beyond his ascension, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in the healing miracles of Peter.[20]  Through His example and commands to his disciples, Christ calls on all of mankind to bring comfort to the suffering.  In the parable of the Judgment Day, Christ relates how at the end of time, the King will come and say to those who sit on his right, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…I was…ill and you cared for me.”[21]  Those to whom he speaks reply “Lord, when did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”[22]  They reply in this way because they who are righteous do not realize the depth of the service that they perform and are answered by the King when he says “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”[23]  This parable is critical for today’s physician.   Modern medicine attempts to cure the disease of the person in piecemeal and once the symptoms of the disease are removed, then modern health care guidelines would dictate that no more treatment is necessary due to cost prohibitions.  The doctors have already lost a great deal of support from insurance companies and from hospital administrators in the treatment of the individual patient.  They are now under greater pressure to cut costs wherever possible, even if that means that time with the patient and the ability to treat the whole person, body, mind, and soul, is lost.  This is the attitude that the parable of Judgment day condemns.  And so the modern physician must turn away from the pressure of the secular world, and return to Christ, so that the physician may live out the example Christ has given.

With these commands, the doctor is now called to enter into a deeper relationship with the patient.  It is important for the doctor to enter into this relationship to prevent the forcible removal of the identity of the person to occur.   It is imperative for the doctor to see the patient as a person to be treated and to be loved, not a disease to be cured, but in so many instances this is not the case.

This human person, the patient, has an inherit dignity that must be recognized.  Before proceeding, we must remember what a person is. KarolWojtyladefines a person as

An objective entity, which as a definite subject has the closest contacts with the whole (external) world and is most intimately involved with it precisely because of its inwardness, its interior life.  It must be added that it communicates thus not only with the visible, but also with the invisible world, and most importantly, with God.[24]

Because the individual both exists and communicates with the entirety of reality, that is both the visible and invisible, and communicates with God, he has a special dignity and value.  This value must be recognized in medicine.  However, the materialistic and reductionistic philosophies have successfully created a certain biomedical culture.  “This culture of biomedicine facilitates our viewing the patient as “other,” an object that is synonymous with his or her biologically based disease.”[25]  When a doctor enters into the relationship with the patient, they must instead see the person who is to be loved.  For not only did Christ command that his disciples go forth and heal, or that they see Him in the poorest of their brethren, but also that they should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[26]  When the doctor sees the patient as a human person and chooses to love that person as himself, the doctor then can become Christ to that person.

There is a very special interpersonal relationship between the doctor and the patient.  This relationship is “‘a meeting between trust and conscience.’  The “trust” of one who is ill and suffering and hence in need, who entrusts himself to the “conscience” of another who can help him in his need and who comes to his assistance to care for him and cure him.”[27]  Just as those who were sick and suffering “came to hear [Jesus] and to be healed of their diseases,”[28] so too does the patient come to the doctor with faith in his ability to heal.  This healing can occur on many levels since man is composed of more than just a physical body.  Truly, it is proper that the doctor should seek to heal not only the body, but also the soul and the mind, just asChrist did.   It is in this moment that the fullness of the physician’s vocation lies.  The call of the physician and his relationship with his patients is seen in the Old Testament book of Sirach where it is written that

… God has also established him in his profession. From God the doctor has wisdom …. God makes the earth yield healing herbs which the prudent should not neglect….Through which the doctor eases pain, and the druggist prepares his medicines. Thus God’s work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth.[29]

The very profession of medicine is one given by God in order for God’s work and glory to continue on this earth.  Within his vocation, the physician is obligated to recognize his particular call as an instrument of God to bring healing to those around him.  One of the most profound ways the doctor can accomplish the treating of the person is by helping the patient to recognize his vocation as a patient.  This vocation is that which was discussed earlier concerning the uniting of the suffering of the patient with the Cross of Christ.  In this interpersonal relationship, the doctor is Christto the patient, healing and serving in the most loving ways those who are broken and outcast and helping them to “take up his cross, and follow me.”[30]  On the patient’s side of this relationship, he becomes Christ for the doctor by both giving the doctor an opportunity to serve him in his suffering and by his offering up of his suffering in union with the suffering of Christ and being a witness of love for all of mankind.  When this profound relationship is realized between the doctor and the patient, medicine is no longer restricted to a treatment of the disease but becomes also an intervention on the human body that “touches not only the tissues, the organs, and their functions, but involves also at various levels the person himself.”[31]

The healing of the patient cannot be completed solely on the physical level.  There is necessarily a spiritual component to the healing.  In Sirach, it is written

My son, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to God, for it is he who heals.Flee wickedness and purify your hands; cleanse your heart of every sin….Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; you need him too, for there are times when recovery is in his hands. He too prays to God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. Whoever is a sinner before his Maker will be defiant toward the doctor.[32]

The patient is called to turn to God for a spiritual healing in the midst of his illness, recognizing that both physical and spiritual healing is given only by God.  And as described above, in Christ’s healing ministry there is a consistent pairing of physical healing with spiritual healing.  This same ministry has been passed to his Apostles and disciples, and as such, throughout the centuries there has been a close relationship between the Priest and the Physician.  The physician can provide the physical healing, while the priest is able to offer the medicine of the soul.    In a recent address for the Twentieth World Day of the Sick, Pope Benedict wrote about the need to emphasize the “’sacraments of healing,’ that is to say the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and that of the Anointing of the Sick.”[33]  These Sacraments offer the physical manifestation of God’s grace to the patient.  These are an “expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul.”[34]  The physician is called to encourage the patient to return, like the prodigal son, to God for a completeness of his healing.  The Sacrament of Penance can be extremely important during a time of illness. Pope Benedict writes

A time of suffering, in which one could be tempted to abandon oneself to discouragement and hopelessness, can thus be transformed into a time of grace so as to return to oneself, and like the prodigal son of the parable, to think anew about one’s life, recognizing its errors and failures, longing for the embrace of the Father, and following the pathway to his home. He, in his great love, always and everywhere watches over our lives and awaits us so as to offer to every child that returns to him the gift of full reconciliation and joy.[35]

This is a crucial action that the suffering patient can take in his recognition of his role in salvific suffering.  This is that interior act of the will that recognizes the gift of suffering that has been given, which then turns to an external action.  Through this Sacrament, the patient is able to enter into a deeper relationship with Christ, and thus bring the salvific nature of his suffering to a deeper level.  The physician who recognizes this can be a source of encouragement and support for the struggling patient.  The relationship the patient has with that physician may mean the difference between despair and hope in their suffering of illness, and so it is imperative for the physician to fulfill his role in the spiritual awakening of the patient.  This necessarily requires that the physician, as described in Sirach, have a relationship with God.  He too must turn to God for guidance and support in his mission of healing, for all of the physician’s abilities and successes derive only from Him.  Moreover, the physician must have a relationship with the clergy who bring the Sacraments to the sick and suffering.  This relationship can be seen in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, where the healing ministry of the priest intersects most directly with that of the physician.  Pope Benedict writes

In the Anointing of the Sick, the sacramental matter of the oil is offered to us, so to speak, “as God’s medicine … which now assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation, yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection (cf. Jas 5:14)”[36]

This Sacrament allows the attention to be given to the sick that the Church has called for, and in doing so reminds the pastors and those serving the sick, that what is done to the least of their brethren, is done for Christ.

The Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick both have their source in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, that source and summit of all Sacraments.  Concerning the Eucharist, Pope Benedict states that “received at a time of illness, it contributes in a singular way to working this transformation, associating the person who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ to the offering that he made of himself to the Father for the salvation of all.”[37]  The reception of the Eucharist is the ultimate act of unification a patient can have with Christ in this world.  As the patient and Christ become one in that moment, the suffering offered up to Christ crucified reaches its infinite depth of meaning.

Each of the Sacraments can be special gifts that the patient receives.  But to do so, the patient must be made aware of their existence, of the power of healing that can be given to the patient through these gifts of God.  In these Sacraments, the priest and the physician meet, acting as emissaries offering the mercy of God. The physician brings knowledge and support, while the priest brings the power of the Sacraments to the patient.  This aspect of the physician’s role cannot be ignored, for it is an integral part of the healing of the patient.  In answering his vocation, the physician has been called to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of his patient.  Moreover, the physician takes part in establishing the Kingdom of God, for in that Kingdom,

Suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization in to a “civilization of love.”  In this love the salvific meaning of suffering is completely accomplished and reaches its definitive dimensions.[38]

The vocation of the physician calls him not only to bring healing to the body, but to recognize that suffering transforms into love, love of the one suffering and love of God.  The acts of love that are man’s response to those suffering can act as a pebble in a pond, sending ripples of change throughout the whole of society.  The physician, by approaching his suffering patient with genuine love, has great capacity to do good, even when he cannot eradicate the suffering.  This love is what can open the mind of the patient to a deeper understanding of their suffering, and give them the ability to find the fullness of their healing by turning to God and His Sacraments.[39]

The past century of medicine has brought many new advances but not without a significant price.  The physician and patient have both suffered as the spiritual aspects of their respective roles have been minimized or eradicated.  It is time for the physician to reclaim that lost part of his vocation, his part in the spiritual healing of the patient.   This occurs through the establishment of a Christocentric and loving relationship between the physician and the patient, which allows the physician to guide the patient back to Christ and His healing Sacraments.  In this way the physician may live out the parables of the Last Judgment and the Good Samaritan, bringing the patient physical healing and helping him in his journey to God.



Benedict. (2011, November 20). Message of the holy father on the occasion of the twentieth world day of the sick. Retrieved from

Catechism of the Catholic Church.New York: Double Day, 1995.

Hroscikoski, Mary, O.S.F. M.D. “The Patient and the Disease as ‘Other’”. Franciscans and Healthcare.Ed.Elise Saggau,O.S.F. St.Bonaventure,New York: The Franciscan Institute, 2001.

JohnPaulII, Discourse in Lourdes, August 15, 1983, n. 4. Rpt. in Charter for Health Care Workers. Ed. Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance.Boston:St.PaulBooks and Media. p. 59.

John Paul, II. Salvifici Doloris. Boston: St.PaulBooks and Media.

JohnPaulII, To the world Congress of Catholic doctors, Oct. 3, 1982, in Insegnamenti V/3, p. 676, n. 3. Rpt. in Charter for Health Care Workers. Ed. Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance.Boston:St.PaulBooks and Media. p. 28.

The New American Bible.New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992.

Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance. Charter for Health Care Workers.Boston:St.PaulBooks and Media.

Wojtyla, Karol (John Paul II). Love and Responsibility. 1981. Trans.H.T.Willetts.San Francisco:Ignatius, 1993.

[1]In the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragrpahs 362-367 it states that “the human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God. In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man.  The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit: Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.  The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.  The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.”

[2] Paragraphs1420-1421 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the sacraments of Healing in this way: “Through the sacraments of Christian initiation, man receives the new life of Christ. Now we carry this life “in earthen vessels,” and it remains “hidden with Christ in God.” We are still in our “earthly tent,” subject to suffering, illness, and death. This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin.  The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.”

[3] Cf. CCC 1503

[4]John 10:10

[5] Lk 10:29-37

[6] Charter For Health Care Workers, 5.

[7] Insegnamenti V/3, 676, n.3. found in Charter for Health Care Workers, p. 28.

[8] CCC 1500.

[9] CCC 1501.

[10] Salvifici Doloris 26.

[11]Col 1:24

[12] Discourse in Lourdes, August 15, 1983, n.4 found in The Charter for Health Care Workers, p. 59,  also found in CCC 1505.

[13] The Charter for Health Care Workers, 54.

[14] Salvifici Doloris 19.

[15] CCC 1503

[16] Mt 8:17; cf. Isa 53:4.

[17] Isa 53:7-8.

[18] Mt 10:1; cf. Mk 3: 14-19, Lk 6: 13-16, Acts 1:13.

[19] Salvifici Doloris 30.

[20] Acts 3: 1-10.

[21] Mt 25:34-36.

[22] Mt 25:37.

[23] Mt 25:40.

[24] Wojtyla, 23.

[25] Hroscikoski, 56.

[26] Mt 22:37-39.

[27] The Charter for Health Care Workers, 2.

[28] Lk 6:18.

[29] Sirach 38: 1-2, 4, 7-8.

[30] Mt 16:24.

[31] The Charter for Health Care Workers, 40.

[32] Sirach 38: 9-10, 12-15.

[33] Benedict XVI, 2011.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Benedict XVI, 2011.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Salvifici Doloris 30

[39] The implementation of these ideas is very possible.  To do so there are  few steps that can be taken:

  1. Be aware of the needs of the patient and have knowledge concerning the salvific nature of suffering
  2. Have knowledge of practical recommendations for patients including documents, encyclicals, books, pamphlets, and individuals in the community, particularly clergy, who can be of assistance.
  3. Most importantly, the physician needs to earn the right to have this discussion with the patient, which means the physician needs to be a font of love for those around him and prove that he is willing to live out the very life he is calling his patients to strive for.  To do so, it is important for the physician to have an active spiritual life and frequent the Sacraments himself.

Why yes, fetal tissue IS used to develop vaccines and other products….

Rebecca Taylor over at the blog Mary Meets Dolly has written an excellent article, “Morally Tainted: Products Made Possible By the Killing of Innocent Human Life” which is about the use of aborted fetal tissue in developing several different manufactured products

Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill to the Oklahoma Legislature that has caused quite a stir. S.B. 1418 says it would ban any product for human “consumption” that contains aborted human fetal tissue or where the research or development of any of the ingredients required the use of aborted fetal tissue…..

When Shortey suggested that his bill was not simply about aborted fetuses in the food supply, but about companies using cells and tissues from aborted human beings to test or develop various chemicals, drugs or therapies, one angry commenter on the Huffington Post retorted, “What companies? Name them. If you can’t, then this is the rantings of a paranoid delusional.”

Rebecca goes on to describe several different companies that are actively using fetal tissue obtained from abortions and does an excellent job detailing the moral questions that arise in using this type of tissue.  One area of great controversy that she touches upon is Vaccines (Emphasis mine):

Yet, some of these products, like drugs or vaccines, can be life-saving. The question then becomes: Can Catholics use these life-saving products that were developed using aborted fetal tissue in good conscience?

Many of them, like the vaccines for rubella and polio, are developed or produced in cell lines that came from abortions that occurred decades ago, and no new abortions or destruction of life are required to produce those vaccines.

The guidance given by the Church on the use of vaccines may be the best guide for other life-saving products as well. In the case of vaccines produced in aborted fetal-stem cell lines like MRC-5 and WI-38, where the abortion occurred decades ago, parents must ask their health-care provider for an alternative vaccine that was grown in cells not procured by illicit means. If there are no alternatives, then they must voice their objection.

I would challenge parents out there, How many of you have actually voiced their objections to your child’s physician? To the vaccine manufacturer? To the FDA?  How many of you know that several different vaccines are manufactured using fetal tissue derived from abortions and that there are alternatives for some of them?  (For a list, see Children of God for Life and their excellent PDF)

For many, you may not have had any idea.  This once again raises the issue that parents need to be informed concerning vaccines prior to giving consent for their administration.  And unfortunately, you will not be able to ask most physicians about this issue because they will simply be clueless about the use of aborted fetal tissue in vaccine development.  After you have done your research and you approach your physician, you will need to be prepared to be ridiculed.  In medical school we are fairly indoctrinated with the idea that vaccines are God’s gift to man and that there is no reason a healthy individual should not be given every possible vaccine.  We are encouraged to NOT critically analyze this evidence or question the vaccine schedule, and when you do so, you are quickly ostracized and labeled “heretic”.   The medical profession and the media have assumed that every single concern objection to vaccines has to do solely with the whole “Thimerosol and Autism” controversy.  However, as many of you know, there are many other concerns that due arise, including the increase in allergies and autoimmune disease, other behavioral issues beyond autism, and autism itself.  Whereas Thimerosol has been somewhat debunked (depending on the literature you look at) there are other possibilities.

A biotech startup out in Seattle, Sound Choice Pharmaceuticals, is actively working on creating morally acceptable vaccines.  In the course of their research, they have shown that vaccines that are contaminated with human DNA (from the manufacturing process that uses aborted fetal tissue) may be a culprit in the Vaccine-Autism link.   This raises the issue of using these morally tainted vaccines to a whole new level.  And yet, many continue to be complacent and simply do as their physician instructs.

The medical profession and vaccine manufacturers have heard the Church’s argument that these vaccines “are permissible when no alternative is available.”  And since there is no huge outcry from the patients and customers, and we do not see masses of kids refusing vaccination until a suitable alternative is available, the medical establishment and vaccine manufacturers have no reason to change their ways.  I am not advocating that we do not vaccinate (nor am I advocating FOR vaccines), rather we need to take a stronger stand and DEMAND that there be morally suitable vaccines.  There are too many unanswered questions with vaccines, particularly with the ones using fetal tissue.  We have to ability to demand answers and alternatives, but it requires that we stand up and say something.

A Few thoughts on Fatherhood

This was originally written during the first year of medical school when my first born was about 3 months old.  

I thought that I would give just a few thoughts about family life…

Time is inconsistent. When I am studying my psychology lecture it moves slower than molasses in the winter, yet this first year of medical school has passed in the blink of an eye. The same goes for my son. The past three months have gone by so quickly, yet it seems as though he has always been a part of this family. What a joyous three months! Despite the challenges and changes that come with a child, I wouldn’t change a thing.

One of the benefits, or perhaps curses, of being a medical student and a father is the opportunity to compare what I am learning in the classroom to what I see in real life. One of the courses that I am taking this year focuses on the behavioral sciences, which is essentially our first introduction to psychology. We have covered topics from child development to personality disorders. From my perspective, there seems to be a consistent message which focuses on the importance of the parent-child relationship, especially during the first years of life. The beginning of all this is in the attachment between the child and the parents. This attachment begins even before birth, when the child begins to hear his parents’ voices, and continues to develop in the moments after birth when he is placed in the arms of his mother and takes his first feed at her breast. The focal length (the length the child can see) is about 9 inches, the distance between the breast and a mother’s eyes when she looks down at her child, allowing that bond to continue to develop. The mother is intrinsically reciprocal to the child in so many ways. This was the way that we were designed by our Creator, to fit snugly into our mother’s arms, for love! It is vitally important for that attachment to develop between the child and his parents, for that sense of trust and knowledge of love to be established. When this breaks down, the child does not learn what it means to be loved or how to trust, which in turns does not allow the child to learn how to interact with those people around him. Subsequently, the child can have language and learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and poor brain development and physical growth. It all can be affected by that attachment between the child and his parents!

So that is what I have learned, but what have I experienced? The answer: Love and Joy! My wife and I decided from the beginning that we would attempt Attachment Parenting (Dr. Sears). This means that we have exclusively breastfed Joseph on demand. When he is hungry, he eats. Pretty straight forward. Why breastfeed, you might ask? From my training both as a medical student and a NFP instructor, I have learned that breastmilk is the absolute best type of food you can give to a child. According to the studies, Joseph’s nervous system is developing at a faster and more efficient rate than a formula fed child, and he is getting every nutrient that his body could possibly need, in just the right quantities. This is something that formula has never been able to do. Moreover, breastfeeding is wonderful for my wife’s health. By breastfeeding, she is helping to reduce her risk of breast and other cancers and the hormones released during breastfeeding help to reduce her stress levels. This makes my life a little bit easier too! The best part about breastfeeding is the bond that is established between Joseph and Johanna. The physical closeness, the physiology, the spiritual giving of herself, all of these help to create that attachment between Joseph and Johanna that will help Joseph be a well-developed individual. All of this is supported by scientific studies! That was just one aspect of attachment parenting, exclusive breastfeeding on demand. What more? Co-sleeping. This is where my attachment comes into play. From the moment he was born, he has spent each night in our arms. This means that the last thing that he sees before falling asleep is one of us, and we are the first thing he sees when waking up. It is such a joy to hear him peacefully falling asleep, cooing and nestling into the crook of an arm, and perhaps a greater joy to see his bright smile as he awakens to see us watching him. I have few greater pleasures than holding him tight against me as he drifts off to sleep. Co-sleeping also means that we do not ignore his cries of distress either during the day when he is napping (sometimes with us, sometimes on his own) or at night. Rather, we quickly attend to his needs, whether it be an empty stomach or a full diaper. Over a short period of time, Joseph has come to learn that his needs will be met very quickly, and so rarely does he get so fussy, that he is inconsolable. Most of the time, simply picking him up quiets him down. All of this is helping to establish for him a sense of trust and security, which is a vital step in a child’s development from a psychological perspective. In co-sleeping and attending Joseph’s needs I have a great opportunity to develop my relationship and attachment with him, but I think the best time I have to do that is when I get to carry him in his sling. Whenever we go out together (as a family) I have taken on the role of being the baby-carrier. We use a sling, which allows Joseph to cuddle right up to my chest, where he feels me and I feel him. Whether at the store, at a friend’s house, or during Mass, I have Joseph right near my heart, literally. I can look down and see his great blue eyes staring right back at me. Nothing is more precious than the smiles he will give during those times. Yet, it doesn’t stop just with the smiles and looks, but he knows that he is safe when he is against me, so no matter where we are, or who we meet, he always has a smile on his face, because he knows that he is with his mother and father.

As time goes on, I expect that Joseph will continue to grow in his outgoing personality and become a well balanced child, who knows that his parents will always be there for him and who count his needs important enough to sacrifice their own comforts and wants for what is best for him. As a medical student I have come to realize that attachment parenting is the best way to facilitate the raising of a well adjusted child. In every way, this form of parenting promotes what the ‘experts’ say is best for a child. Moreover, this method works with our natural parenting instincts, rather than against what we feel is best for a child. From my experience so far, I can only say that this feels as natural as anything could, and I am ever grateful to God that my experience is reinforced by my medical school education.

Being Catholic In Medical School

This talk was given at Franciscan University of Steubenville on October 7th, 2011. 


Good morning to all of you.  It is a real honor to be able to return and speak before you.  It was not too long ago that I sat in those very seats, contemplating my future and all that lay before me.  At that time, I never imagined the journey the Lord would take me on, particularly in regards to medical school and the like.  My journey since I graduated in 2007 has been filled with many joys and some sorrows.  I have felt lifted up and torn down.  But through it all the Lord has guided me, and as I stand before you and reflect on that journey, I feel that I am a stronger man for it, and without a doubt, it has drawn me closer to the Lord.  Today I wanted to take the time to talk to you a little bit about this journey. Namely, I will outline some of the challenges I have personally faced being Catholic in medical school, as well as other issues my Catholic colleagues have faced.  But being Catholic in med school is more than just about being on the defensive, and so I want to also spend some time on how being a Catholic medical student has brought me greater skill and joy when caring for my patients.  Throughout the talk, I will touch upon a subject I feel is extremely important for all of us, and that is the need for every Catholic professional to seek to be both technically and spiritually competent in their field, and I will explain more of this at that time.  I will also discuss the ways that you can both find support in medicine as well as work to make a difference.

Challenges Faced

Being Catholic surely does not make medical school or any other healthcare related job any easier.  In fact, it makes it harder.  The easy way is to go with the flow, and simply accept what mainstream medicine and our culture says is “okay” and the “appropriate thing to do for our patients.”  But of course, all of you probably realize this and recognize that what the culture tells us does not make it the right thing to do.  Going back to healthcare, those challenges and difficulties begin the moment you leave this campus and enter any job dealing with the care of the sick.  For the sake of time, I will focus on medical school in this talk, but the ideas and challenges can be applied to any healthcare worker, especially nurses and pharmacists.

So Let us begin with the process of getting into medical school.

Dr. Kuebler just recently publish an excellent article in the National Catholic Register.  I hope all of you have had the opportunity read it, because it is the truth.  This article is entitled “The Case Against Pro-Life Physicians: Bias Begins at Med School Interview.” 

Here are two short paragraphs I wish to quote:

“It is routine for medical-school admission interviews to include open-ended questions on ethical issues. Primarily, these questions are included in the process to see if students can articulate clearly and defend adequately their thoughts on complex issues. If this were the sole reason for their inclusion, questions about abortion and abortion access could play a legitimate role in the interview process. But that is often not the intent of such questions.

The reality is that many schools are using abortion-related questions to screen out pro-life candidates. This is despite the fact that federal law prohibits medical schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against candidates based upon their views on abortion. While the law prohibits explicit discrimination against pro-life candidates, it does not prohibit schools from inquiring about abortion during the interviewing process. Unfortunately, this situation creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.”

Getting into medical school is not easy for pro-life students.  And this becomes even more difficult for faithful Catholics because not only can questions of abortion arise, but a pernicious interviewer could easily raise questions concerning contraception, sterilization, and end-of-life care.

How do we face these types of situations?  I think this is particularly pertinent for those of you who will be in this situation sooner than later.  First of all, and this will be repeated in other situations, you must be knowledgeable.  Why do you believe what you do?  Know it.  And not just what the Church teaches us.   Of course this is extremely important for us to know, and to know well.  But I am going to tell you a little secret about the people who do not want you to succeed: They do not care what the Catholic Church teaches.  If your main argument against abortion, contraception, sterilization, etc is because it is against my faith, then I am telling you now, you will lose the fight.  The best overall strategy I can offer you is two part: 1) Stay calm and maintain a respectful attitude.  Losing your cool will only help the other person succeed in preventing you from entering medical school.  2) Be able to explain your position using only medical and ethical, NOT religious, reasoning.  I will tell you now that I try to never bring in the fact that I am Catholic as a reason for not participating in a procedure or action.  The problem is that once you use that argument, the other party, even if they are Christian, will typically zone out and not listen to any subsequent defenses.  I can expostulate eloquently on the medical risks and complications of abortion or contraception, but if I had first said that “it is because I am Catholic”, all of that will not be heard.  In many cases, simply the fact that people know I am a faithful Catholic has hindered me.  I don’t even say a word about it in these situations, but they already have preconceived misconceptions about why I will not prescribe contraception or perform/assist in abortions.  In those cases my work is twice as hard.   Now, I want to clarify that I do not mean that we hide our faith, but rather that we don’t hide BEHIND our faith.  The wonderful thing about our Faith is that all that Holy Mother Church teaches on these medical issues is confirmed in the natural world.

Now going back to the interview.  What I just said is extremely important to remember.  Now, as Dr. Kuebler talked about in his article, it isn’t as much about religion as the position of pro-life versus pro-abortion.  However, as it stands, there is little we can do until our rights are better enshrined in law. What we CAN do is to speak eloquently and with love.  Even if the interviewer disagrees with you and seems to be out to get you, it is extremely important that you stay calm.  I know of several individuals who antagonized the interviewer as much as they were antagonized, and let’s just say that it did not end well.  We must be different than our aggressors.  When we show we are willing to hold our temper, to continue to be respectful, and still intelligently defend our position, we are more likely to succeed in softening their hearts, and possibly convincing them that we would ‘not be a threat’ or could ‘have our mind changed’.    Now is this always going to work? No, but it has a much better of success than allowing yourself to become enraged at their provocations.

Once in medical school, the challenges you face become different.  Life in medical school can be a bit challenging when faced with the variety of ethical and moral issues that come up.

During the first two years, you really are not in true clinical scenarios.  This does not mean, however that you do not have challenges to face.  Many schools now have lectures or even classes on medical ethics or related topics, in which you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle.  Or you may be in lectures where abortion or contraception or even euthanasia is being touted as something good.  So the question becomes, what do you do?  You could simply keep your head down, telling yourself that once you are through med school, you can practice how you want to practice.  This is one way.  But there is another. I can remember a couple of different scenarios that came up.  One was during my first year of medical school, during the behavioral science block.  The lecture was on adulthood, and the instructor had touched up the progression of adult relationships, and had made the comment on how cohabitation was healthy step in a relationship, and that some couples may or may not progress to marriage, and then on to divorce (almost as if it were a given).  Now, I took issue with this a bit, and so I raised my hand to ask if the instructor was familiar with the research that indicated that those who cohabitate prior to marriage have a higher incidence of divorce.  The instructor basically brushed me off and ridiculed me saying he knew of no studies showing such a thing.  Having my laptop handy, I did a quick lit search on pub med (an extremely important skill!) and found dozens of articles on this topic, and not just about the correlation of cohabitation and divorce, but of cohabitation and poverty, abuse, murder, and other issues.  At the break, I went and talked to the instructor about this and when the class returned, he put me on the spot to share what I told him.  I told the class that a simple lit search did in fact show cohabitation to be unhealthy for the relationship.  Now, this was a very difficult thing to do. It exposed me to all of my classmates, and in fact upset several of them because, lo and behold, they were cohabitating with their significant other and felt ‘attacked and judged’ by me.  This was an unfortunate consequence, this straining of the relationship with some of my classmates.  But it was important to do. This instructor was spreading false information to future physicians who would then influence multitudes of others.  Another situation I encountered was during my second year, during the reproductive physiology lecture.  Now, being a Natural Family Planning instructor, I was quite curious to see how the topic of contraception and NFP would be approached.  I had access to the previous year’s PowerPoint presentation and was able to scout things out.  To my expectation, natural family planning was treated rather poorly, using the typical (and false) statistic of a 25% failure rate.  Since I had a heads up this time, I actually emailed the individual giving the lecture to ask him about this in light of several articles I cited to him, which showed the success rate of 99%.  After discussing this issue and the efficacy of lacational amenorrhea (and providing him with solid sources) he actually changed his presentation to be more NFP friendly.

These are just a couple of the times that I had to stand up and say “This is not right.”  But when I did rise up, I tried to do it in the most respectful way possible.  Did I get angry and upset at times? Absolutely! But I knew I needed to cool off before responding.  And then I made sure that I knew what I was talking about.  One of the worst things we can do, other than losing our cool, is to be caught with a bad or defenseless argument.  So before you respond, if you are able, take the time to do a little reading, now what you want to say and have the sources to back it up.

Now, you need to take these same steps during your clinical years.  Only now, you will find yourself in situations where you are unable to say ‘I will get back to you on that’, but you will need to make a split second decision about how you will act.  So the best way to handle this is to know what you will do and why you are doing it ahead of time.  Let’s take a few examples.

One of the most commonly encountered issues for Catholic medical students is contraception.  Our culture accepts it as a given, and medicine is obviously no different.  Many of you probably know that the only organized group of individuals that vocally rejects contraception is the Roman Catholic Church. That being said, you need to know why the Church teaches what she does.   Be familiar withHumanae Vitae, read up on the commentaries and instructions given by individuals like Janet Smith (her Contraception Why not?).  But you also need to be up to date on the medical reasons why you would not prescribe contraception.  This includes the risks associated, the side effects, the long term consequences on a woman’s health like breast cancer and infertility.  You also need to know the ethical reasons.  My main response is that I am not comfortable with causing a major, healthy, functioning organ to stop working. Basically I am causing a disease state in an otherwise healthy woman.  This, too me, goes against the basic tenets of medicine.

I have found myself in these situations on several occasions.  Most of the time I was able to avoid having to deal with it, but when I was unable to avoid a visit that was specifically about obtaining birth control, I had to calmly tell the physician I was working with that I was going to not go in on the visit because I was not comfortable with prescribing birth control.  Most of the time the physician looked a bit confused, but would shrug his shoulders and go into the room without me.  Other times I would see the eyes narrow, and the lips purse, and the physician ask, in a bit of a menacing way, “Why not?” And so I would have to explain myself, mainly with the reason I stated above.   Sometimes this would turn into a more in depth discussion and I could venture into natural family planning as an alternative, and other times it ended there.  I praise the Lord that I was never put in situation where I felt my grade was in jeopardy, but I know it has happened to others.  Surprisingly, the people from whom I received the most flak about my stance on contraception were my fellow classmates.  They were more cruel and intolerable than many of the physicians I have worked with, and some of the harder ones to respond to.  And yet you do what you can in the way I have already outlined.

One of my strengths in this area is the fact that I am a Natural Family Planning instructor.  This was something I was able to offer as an alternative, if not to my patients in the clinic, then at least to the physician who questioned why I would not prescribe.  Having a skill like this can be invaluable, not only because it is a tool to offer but because of the knowledge that you have because you took the time to learn about NFP.

Another issue, related to the contraception issue is sterilization.  There are two forms of sterilization you will encounter in medicine, tubal ligation and vasectomy.  Sterilization is one of the most common forms of birth control used in the United States.  As such, you will undoubtedly find yourself having to make a moral choice about your participation in the sterilization of a patient.  I have been faced with both tubals and vasectomies.  I had an interesting experience in dealing with the vasectomy issue.

Early in my third year I was on my surgery rotation.  It was a Friday afternoon of the first week with this particular surgeon, Dr. B.  I had already rotated with the trauma service and the neurosurgeon at the University Hospital, and now I was assigned to small, community hospital.  The week had gone great, with a variety of general surgery cases and now we were wrapping up the week with a few hours seeing patients in the office.  As I reviewed the list of patients for the afternoon, I saw something that made my heart sink.  The last patient of the day was scheduled to have a vasectomy performed.  I had not anticipated this being a problem on surgery.  In retrospect, I should not be too surprised, since a vasectomy is a surgical procedure.  I suppose that since the male reproductive issues do not come up as often, I simply wasn’t thinking about it.  However, that quickly changed.  After all of this came to my attention, I mentioned to my preceptor that I saw the last patient of the day was a vasectomy.  I started to say “I hope you don’t mind, but-“, then I was interrupted by my preceptor saying “You would like to sit this one out?  Not a problem.”  I said thank you, and we went on to see the next patient.  When we returned to his office, he related to me that since coming to this hospital about 15 years ago he has done the majority of the vasectomies because the urologist in the hospital was a Catholic and would not do vasectomies.  I again gave him my gratitude for understanding, and we left it at that.

Now I tell you this story, because I want you to realize the importance of standing up for your beliefs. Thanks to this urologist, I did not have to “deal” with that issue in this case.  I have in other times, but in this situation, because someone had come before me and set the example, my life was a bit easier and my beliefs were already accepted.  This is why I am here today, to encourage you and show you that a path has been laid out.  It is not necessarily easy, but with each passing student, and each success we make a little headway in regaining our freedom to practice as Catholic physicians.  We will come back to this later.

Though I dodged this bullet, I did not dodge the bullet on tubal ligations.  One night on labor and delivery, there was a tubal ligation scheduled for after the C-section I was assisting on.  So I told the physician I would be stepping out of the room after the baby was born because I could not assist in the tubal.  The physician turned to me with a bit of an antagonistic look and said “What do you mean by stepping out? Out of the room? Off the floor? Out of the hospital? Off the world?”  I calmly replied that I would be stepping out of the room.  He said “Fine”.  So that is what I did, and despite the hard time he gave me, later in the evening he let me deliver the baby of one of his other patients and we had a fairly decent conversation.  But that was a hard trial, because I was forced to go up against a well established OB/GYN.  Here was a man who could make my life miserable, but I needed to follow my conscience and my beliefs.  If I was willing to violate it now, how could I live with myself and know that in the future I would continue to do what is right by my patients?  This is the challenge each of us faces in these situations.

I have spoken of contraception and sterilization first because it has been my experience that these will be two areas in which you will be most challenged in clinical practice.  As I said before, Catholics are the only unified voice that still speaks out against these practices, and so you will even find yourself unpopular on these topics with your protestant, pro-life colleagues.  So you need to be well versed in why these actions are attacks on the human person and attacks on love.

Next let me turn to the issue of abortion.  A recent Guttmacher Institute study showed that 54% of abortions occur because another form of birth control failed.  You will not learn this in medical school. No, you don’t learn a lot of things about abortion in medical school.  Like the fact that women have greater risk of mental health issues after an abortion, or that it leads to increased rates of pre-term labor and other neonatal complications. Not to mention the surgical risk associated with the procedure.  What you do learn is that this is a “Safe, healthy procedure that is legal in the United States and that it carries less risk than bringing a pregnancy to term.”  For those of you active in the prolife movement, you may have heard some of these lies about how safe abortion is.  Well, I am sad to say they are perpetuated at the highest level in medical school.  So you may find yourself coming up against classmates and instructors on this issue.  Again, know your stats, know your studies, know why the pro-abortion people are wrong in their science.  When it comes to Ob/Gyn and embryology, you may need to do some extra reading in order to get a real education in this area, in order to get beyond the lies and falsities.  I know I had to.  Now, in regards to participation in abortion during your clinical years.  This, praise the Lord, I have not been faced with, and I believe it is safe to say most medical schools are not going to put you into that position.  If you go into OB/GYN and do a residency, the situation changes, but as of now, most schools will not force medical students to participate in abortions in any way.  Now, that doesn’t mean there are not opportunities and you may here of classmates who do special electives or work with certain doctors who train them to do abortions.  So, for now, you have some safeguards, but there is an area you need to consider, and that is the treatment of ectopic pregnancies.  Ectopic pregnancies are rare, and difficult cases.  Some treatments are morally acceptable and others are not. It is your responsibility as a medical student or nurse to know what the treatment is going to be on a given case.  You do not want to be unwittingly assisting in a direct abortion.

Unfortunately, the pro-abortion, pro-death ideology is alive and well in medical school.  I think you would be hard pressed to find a place where abortion, contraception, sterilization are not accepted as every day, good things.  You will be taught in such a way to try and justify these procedures and drugs, and you will be taught that what the patient wants you should give.  This is the tyranny of autonomy, the idea that whatever the patient wants, as long as it is legal, the patient should have access to.  And this is why we end up fighting so many of our battles.  Our medical education system continues to try to destroy any philosophical basis for our ethics, and replace it with an ethics based upon the legal system.  As such, when we are faced with a situation where a patient is requesting something that is legal, but against our moral code, we are viewed by our colleagues as withholding a reasonable medical treatment from our patient, and thus violating the rights of our patients.  Obviously we are not violating the rights of our patients in respecting our consciences, but this is what our culture is trying to paint us as doing.  And so, even if you are never faced with an actual abortion, you will be challenged by those around you on why you would withhold a legal service from a patient.  So be prepared to have these conversations, and to find yourself quite frustrated in them.  But know that it is important to remain strong.

A few other areas that you may encounter, mostly on the theoretical level unless you pursue certain fields of practice, are IVF and other reproductive technologies.  I mention them to you because the conversations will arise, and you will be on the unpopular side if you stand with the Church, and so it is again important that you be well studied on these issues.

At the other end of the spectrum on ethical issues is death and dying.  Euthanasia is legal in three states, and appears to be gaining ground in other states.  But euthanasia occurs more often than we think. Consider the issue of artificial nutrition and hydration.  This is where a person receives food through a feeding tube and water through an IV line.  Now, mainstream medicine has said that this is extraordinary care for an individual and so can be withdrawn at any time at the discretion of the physician and family.  Yet the Church has emphatically stated that ANH is NOT extraordinary, but ordinary means of care and should never be withdrawn unless it is burdensome or harmful to the patient.  I have encountered some situations where the very fine line on this has been very, very gray. So it is important for you to have a firm grasp of the Church’s understanding on the caveats surrounding ANH.

Joys Encountered

So I have spoken for quite awhile on the challenges of being Catholic in medical school.  But there are many, many joys that come too.  I look back at the past three years in awe at the way the Lord has lead me, and helped me grow stronger and closer to Him.  I have found that my faith has been transformative in my understanding and practice of medicine.  From the beginning of medicine, my views on suffering have been very different than my colleagues.  Because of this, I am able to approach my patients not by viewing them as a disease process to be fixed, but rather an individual who has been given the gift of suffering, and it is my role to either alleviate that suffering and in doing so show the power of God, or to help the patient better understand their suffering so that they can grow in virtue and holiness because of it.  Now I do not necessarily do this with overt words, but rather through my actions.  If I take the idea that my suffering neighbor is Christ, and I love them in that way, so much good can come from that relationship, both for the patient and for myself.  Another great joy comes from the struggles I talked of earlier.  I am not speaking of joy begotten from strife with others, but of knowledge of the Truth.  While your classmates may struggle with ethical issues, there is joy and peace that comes from have drawn your line in the sand and standing by it.  That joy comes from trusting in the Lord and in the Church.  You of course do your part to gain the knowledge necessary, but you can take solace in the Authority of the Magisterium, unlike many of your classmates, who in their relativism, are lost in these ethical conundrums.

Another great joy comes from finding fellow Catholics.  This is not always an easy task, but now there are a growing number of Catholic groups on medical school campuses.  And there is now a national group for Catholic medical students called the Catholic Medical Association Student Section.  This is the group I have helped to start and been a part of the past two years.  Even if you feel you are the only Catholic medical student who remains faithful to Catholic teaching at your school, this is a group where you can be in contact with other faithful Catholics from around the country.  We also work to connect students with Catholic physicians who are members of the Catholic Medical Association, a national group of faithful Catholic physicians.

Other joys come to. Maybe they are better known as solaces, like I mentioned earlier.  But many of us go into medicine, not because of the money, but because it is our calling, our vocation.  And when you have an understanding and commitment to that idea, your whole outlook changes.  The way you approach your studies, your exams, your patients, the long hours in the hospital, all of this has a new meaning because you know that what you are doing is in the service of the Lord.

Achieving Excellence

This brings me to my next point I want to discuss:  The need for excellence.  As we move forward as Catholics, the pressure upon us to conform to the culture is only increasing.  When I look around, I recognize that the easier way is to conform, to give in and do what my professors and colleagues, and the culture want me to do.  But I know this is not what I must do.  I know that the Lord is calling me to remain faithful to Him.  But you know, it is not enough to just get by, to quietly keep my head down and ‘wait until I am established in practice to be a Catholic doctor.’  I talked a little bit about an experience of having the way made easier because another Catholic had set the example.  Imagine if all the Catholics out there made their voices heard and set the example?  Perhaps we could shift the tide in medical ethics, and we would no longer have to fight these battles.  But it isn’t that easy.  Consider yourselves for a moment.  Would you listen to someone who didn’t know what they were talking about?  Would you have much respect for them if you knew that half the things they said were wrong? Probably not.  The same goes for you and me.  Do you think the world is going to listen to you on issues of faith and morals or good medical practice if you play the fool?  Even if you have the most theologically sound mind and the tongue of Chrysostom, if you don’t have the technical knowledge in medicine, you will not have the respect, and no one will listen.  We must have competence, both theologically/morally and technically (in our respective fields of medicine).  We must rise up as the top students in our class, as the best residents in our program, and the best doctors in our communities. When you have technical authority, your voice gains greater strength, and the respect for you grows. It makes sense doesn’t it? If you are an incompetent physician who tends to lose the trust of your patients medically, how will people trust you when you speak on things like NFP, contraception, sterilization, abortion?  So, your job begins now.

In order to even get into medical school, you need to be competitive when it comes to grades, experience, research, and the like.  But more than just getting accepted, the classes at FUS will prepare you and make med school easier. So pay attention!  Work hard!  Get good grades now, so that in med school, the pressure is a little less.  I found that I was extremely well prepared for the first year of med school because I had already been through Cell phys, biochem, immuno, developmental, neuro, and the like.  And do research! When you have papers published (I have three in scientific journals, and one in bioethics), it increases your clout.  And you know what else you need to do? Study theology.  This is the best place on the planet to study both theology and biology, so don’t waste that opportunity.  You need more than just Intro and Christian moral principles.  Take advantage so that you can use your knowledge TO your advantage later on.  I have never regretted my theology degree.  It has been immensely helpful in my medical decision making, my conversations, and my general spiritual life.

Once in med school, you need to be on top of your game and to do as well as you can.  Now I throw in a caveat.  I do not recommend you study so hard, and so much, that you do not have time for a life or for the other work the Lord places in your path.  Balance is key.  It is hard to find, and is very individual, but you must be both competent academically and socially.

For my part, I am married.  And this has helped a lot in that regard.  My bride is a FUS grad, we met here, courted here, and were married at St. Peter’s.  We now have a 2 ½ year old son and another coming in December.  As an aside, I encourage anyone in a serious relationship to consider marriage before med school (without rushing things of course).  It has its challenges, but all in all, the married ones make better students and better physicians and it is very doable.  Let me know at the end of the talk if you have more questions.

Back to competence.  So I talked about doing well in your studies, both now and in med school.  It requires a lot of reading, but it is well worth it.  Now, just to be clear, when I say be competent and top of your class, I do not mean you turn into what we call the “gunner”.  That guy who always answers the questions and tries to make others look bad.  You also need to have a life.  So find the balance.  Practice that now, and remember those tricks in med school.  Most importantly, take it seriously.  This is the rest of your life, it is your calling, your vocation, and you may very well answer before the Lord on how you used your time.

There are things you will not learn in med school that are very pertinent to medicine.  Things like natural family planning.  You will be questions by your family and friends on things like vaccines, and end of life care.  You will need to do extra reading to be able to have some authority in these areas. Moreover, certifications are great.  Going through programs like Creighton or the couple to couple league (for those who are married) to become NFP instructors.  Just recently I was able to use my certification as a NFP instructor to give a lecture to the family medicine residents at a local, secular hospital on natural family planning.

Finding Support

You also need support.  This is not a journey you can make alone, no matter how strong you are or how hard you try.  I have witnessed students, good people, break trying to do so.  It is important to find community, even if it is outside of the medical school.  Look for parishes, look around in your class. See who responds when you say something, or who comes to pro-life events.  It is a slow process, but eventually you might find someone who shares your beliefs.  I know that over the course of 6 months I found two other men in my class who wanted to know more about their Catholic faith, and they came to me because I spoke out in discussions.  Beyond just your med school, which may or may not have a decent Catholic students group, there is the Catholic Medical Association Student Section, which I mentioned earlier.  Become an active Catholic.  Be active in your school, your parish, and your community.  It is amazing the opportunities and gifts the lord will give.  I never imagined that during med school I would be here giving this talk, or giving the other talks I have given back in Toledo, or traveling to Rome for medical conferences at the Vatican, or being an advisor on medical ethics to several priests in my diocese.  The Lord has opened doors because I responded to His call, and He will do the same for you when you pursue your vocation with prayer and willingness.


I have tried to talk to you all about several different issues.  I wanted to first make you aware of what challenges lay in your path, and also what joys you might be able to expect.  I want to reemphasize that you need to know your stuff.  This means extra studying in areas beyond what you might be tested on, but it will serve you and the Church well.  And remember, you are not alone.  There are organizations, like the CMA-Student Section where you can find others for support.  You can also check out the CMA-SS blog, which has many posts about some of these experiences and ways to become stronger Catholic physicians.  Also, reach out to other pro-life students in groups like Med Students For Life.  And most of all, do not be afraid to live out your faith.  You never know when the battle you fight now may change the life of another person who comes after you.

Putting Family Over Your Profession

Originally posted on the Catholic Medical Association Students Section blog:

I am constantly asked by a variety of people how I am able to handle a family during medical school.  My short answer is: very carefully and deliberately.  However, it is so much more than that.  As we enter into a new school year, I think this is very important for us to consider.  As Catholics, we have a different understanding of the concept of vocation than most of our culture.  For many, the primary vocation determination is along the lines of religious, married, or single life.  From there we find a vocation in a profession.  And so, for those of us called to a vocation in medicine, we have to also consider how the Lord is calling us to live our life beyond just what work we do.

For a little background, my wife and I were married the spring before medical school began and we expecting our son shortly thereafter.  This was possiblity that we openly embraced and hoped for, and so our son was born during my first year of medical school.  Being married and having a child during medical school has been a wonderful blessing.  Has it been a challenge? Yes, but one that has helped me to grow stronger and to be a better husband and father.  Everyday I had to make a conscious decision to stay focused and use my time wisely.  Every moment I wasted during my studies was a mometn that I could not spend with my wife or son.  The Lord had called me to marriage, to fatherhood, and to medical school.  I had a responsiblity to honor Him by doing well in all parts of my life.

Now that I am in my fourth year of medical school, I do not regret a single challenge or difficult moment in trying to balance medical school and family life.  In fact, I firmly believe my success comes from the support of my family.  My wife has been amazing during this time, and extremely supportive.  Her daily help made my success possible and everyday she continues to make it possible for me to face the challenges and joys of medicine.

One of the most important decisions I have made during medical school is to put my family first.  There have been many opportunities for me to take on extra work or to scrub in on that extra surgery, all with the benefit of ‘getting ahead’ and impressing my evaluators.  I will readily state the importance of doing well in medical school and learning everything you can and also showing your attendings and residents that you know your stuff, particularly if it gives greater credibility to Catholic physicians.  And yet, there is a balane to be struck.  There were days that I had responsibilities that went beyond the hours I had anticipated, or there was a procedure that I very much wanted to see and learn to do.  But I did not make this the norm for myself.  Rather, if a resident or attending told me that I was free to go, 95% of the time, I went home to my family.  I am not a big fan of playing the mindgames that sometimes exist in medical training where the resident says that you can leave, but it is really a test to see if you will stay.  I have found that going home to my family when I have been dismissed has always been fruitful and has not affected my grade or evaluations at all.  This is something I want to stress.  We need a balance in our life, particularly those of us with families.  We are husbands and fathers, or wives and mothers first, and doctors second.  We cannot sacrifice our families for our career, and this is a habit we must begin now.  If we put our priorities in their proper order, the Lord will bless us and guide us in our way.  The Lord is faithful to those who love Him and do His will, and when we care for our families and put them first in our life, the Lord will continue to bless us in all of our actions and decisions.

So as this new year begins, let us reflect upon our priorities, particularly those of us with families.  Are we putting them first in our life?  Or have we fallen into the way of the culture, putting our career first?

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