Choosing a Doctor Who Shares Your Faith
Janet C. Lindemann, M.D.
In a Christian doctor-patient relationship, faith is the common bond.
How good it is for patient and doctor to share the same faith. I love caring for patients of my own church – so many barriers are removed. When a woman in her early forties learns she is pregnant, she needs not be concerned that I will advise her to have an abortion.
The cross or other religious symbol that a Christian physician wears is not merely decorative, but reveals a moral framework. It testifies to why we give the advice we do, to why we understand suffering as we do.
I am a physician and every week patients come to see me for the first time. As part of the routine, I ask about general health, concerns that may have prompted the visit, and important things in their medical history. Just this week, a patient told me that her most important strength when dealing with illness was her Christian faith. When she learned I shared her faith, she said that having a Christian doctor made her feel “very comfortable with the relationship.”
The Doctor-Patient Relationship
Most doctor-patient relationships are professional encounters, never likely to become a relationship anywhere near the importance of friendship or marriage. However, when serious illness strikes or an accident occurs the relationship between patient and doctor becomes deeper. Then a common ground becomes important. What could be more important than a common Christian faith?
In former times, people knew their doctors better. All family members tended to have the same doctor, and they saw one doctor for almost all their problems. People moved around less and knew their doctor for a longer time. Today the doctor-patient relationship has become localized, compartmentalized, and technologized into small print on an employment contract.
And yet, some of the decisions made in the doctor-patient relationship are the most important of our lives. The advice I give to a patient will influence the decision he or she makes on medicine, surgery, or lifestyle changes. Consider the decision made by a woman to take hormones for menopause, a teenager contemplating premarital sex, or a man considering surgery for cancer. Patients in these situations need trusted advice from their doctors.
Because her faith was important to her, the woman I described earlier recognized the need for a Christian doctor. As Christians, we trust God as creator and caretaker of our bodies and souls; we believe he has a plan for our lives. His plan may include physical injury and illness, so along the way we may need to make decisions based upon his will. Our understanding of his will comes from the Bible. My patient told me that a doctor needs to know that of all the books used in making medical decisions, the Bible is the most important.
I recommend that you, as patients, search for a doctor who shares your faith. Ask about it on the telephone or at your first visit. Wear a cross on your lapel. Spend some time and energy on the doctor-patient relationship so that when it becomes necessary, you can trust it. When I teach student doctors about the importance of trust I use the following tool. This can be used as a way to build a relationship or to look at your current doctor-patient relationship.
The Importance of TRUST
Time. Only by spending significant amounts of time can a doctor begin to form a bond. Beware of the person who is not inclined to give you time.
Right. We trust people who have a sort of moral rightness to their thoughts and advice – a value system to which we can subscribe. When we or a family member faces a difficult decision, we need to surround ourselves with people who are morally upright , whose motivation comes from a heart of faith. A Christian physician should espouse certain Scriptural principles such as the sanctity of life and should recognize that there is meaning in suffering.
Understanding. Patients expect their physicians to be knowledgeable about the disease and treatment. Would any of us ho to someone for advice who had insufficient knowledge? In any relationship a certain level of understanding of the person’s situation is necessary for trust to develop.
Silence. Silence implies two things: First, that we are comfortable with brief periods of silence in our conversations and deliberations. It is during these periods that much can be accomplished. Second, silence implies that one is a good listener one cannot listen while one is speaking. This is an important skill to look for in a doctor.
Touch. By this I mean a true coming together of hearts. It may be physical touch, it may be eye contact. It is sympathy in its purest sense. For us as Christians, it is “where two or three are gathered together” in his name. In the Christian doctor-patient relationship, it is the common ground, the bond of faith which may manifest itself in a prayer together or a devotion together. It may be an understanding touch of the hand.
Christian trust is one of God’s gifts. Those of us who have it in friendships and marriages are truly blessed. The relationship we have with our physicians can similarly be blessed. I urge you to seek a physician with a spiritual yardstick as well as a professional yardstick. And pray. Pray for their wisdom and for your own when making difficult decisions.