A Christian physician may be more likely to see the patient as a whole person.
A few years ago, I came down with a virus that I just couldn’t shake. After a week of being light-headed and dizzy, when I didn’t appear to be improving naturally, I made a rush appointment with an unfamiliar doctor because my regular doctor wasn’t available on short notice. When she asked me the usual get-to-know-you questions about my background and profession, I told her that I was a priest. She recommended, among other things, that I stop consuming the remaining wine from the chalices during Mass because I might be picking up germs.
At the time, I was a bit surprised that anyone wouldn’t know how important it is for a priest to take care of the chalices in this reverent manner. In fact, we have very strict rules to do so. Although her comments could be interpreted as insensitive, I didn’t take offense. I also didn’t inform her that I wouldn’t be able to follow her recommendation — the last thing I want to do when I’m sick, vulnerable, and sitting shirtless on that crinkly-papered exam table is to have a religious debate with a stranger.
This incident did, however, highlight how important it is be on the same page with my doctor. I’m certain that my own (Christian) doctor who shares my worldview would have never suggested I shirk my sacramental duties for sake of mere “germs.”
And this is why I feel all good Christians should seriously consider getting a Christian doctor, even if you aren’t a priest, minister, nun or deacon. Our relationship with our doctors is an intimate one, often developing over years and involving a good dose of trust.
Doctors know a lot about us, almost as much as a spouse or spiritual advisor. Mine knows my entire medical history from the number of vaccines I received as an infant all the way to the time I fainted in Mexico at an ice cream stand. He knows how often I’m sick each year, how many children I have, any embarrassing chronic diseases I have, if I’m losing my hair, stressed out at work, or experiencing problems in my marriage. During past visits, we’ve even had conversations about our mutual Christian faith.
I might have questions about treatments my doctor recommends, but I never question the fact that he’s trying to make me well. This trust would be complicated, though, if my doctor and I didn’t share similar world views. In fact, not sharing that can create stress, making recovery more difficult.
The stress caused by lack of trust can appear in a number of ways when doctors and patients fundamentally disagree. Consider, for instance how you might react to your doctor insisting on the HPV vaccine for your 12-year old, contraceptives for you or your teenage daughter, or in vitro fertilization as the next step to a fertility issue. Any of these could potentially cause disagreements that erode trust over time and affect the quality of your medical treatment.
It’s easy to see how even simple misunderstandings can arise.
Perhaps the most important factor in forming a worldview is religious faith. Spirituality can affect the way we think about our bodies, what sort of treatment we are willing to receive, how much we believe parents should be involved with their children’s medical care, and even if prayer is an important part of the healing process. A Christian doctor in particular may be more likely to see the patient as a whole person — physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. He or she may also be more inclined to understand and accept hesitations about religiously complex issues surrounding medical treatments. In short, it would be a relationship in which it is easier to build trust. The end result is a less stressful, healthier life.
With that said, if it’s impossible to actually locate a Christian doctor, the desire to see one doesn’t help very much. So what are some practical tips for finding a Christian doctor? Here are two that are worth a try:
1. Ask around at church
The easiest, most reliable way is by reaching out to a like-minded community and finding out who popular doctors are with your friends and family. In the Catholic community where I live, doctors are known by word of mouth. It isn’t uncommon, for instance, to see postings on online parenting groups asking for recommendations, having someone ask after Church about which doctor our family uses, or what hospital we prefer for maternity. Not everyone is comfortable with this, but there are also doctors who attend the same church who would be natural candidates to inquire about.
2. Do some detective work
Focus on practices or policies that would indicate a shared worldview. For instance, for a Catholic who wants a doctor supportive of Natural Family Planning, an online search for an OB who is also a NaPro Technology consultant can be fruitful. Additionally, some doctors willingly indicate their desire to be known as Christian or to take Christian patients. They join networks that are searchable so we can find them, like this website for Christian Medical and Dental Associations. To me, this method is less preferable than a direct word-of-mouth reference, but it can be a good starting place.
One of the keys to good health is a good doctor you can trust. If that relationship is built on the additional foundation of a shared worldview and religious faith, the effort to find the right one is definitely worth it.