White Coat Chronicles is a blog written by third year Creighton University students Emily Allen and Ryan Saliga who train at CUMC-Bergan Mercy. The blog chronicles their lives as students and as a young couple who plan to be married this summer.
The deeper I go into my medical education, the more I’ve questioned which kind of medicine I want to practice. A turning point came a couple of months ago at the Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I wanted to attend the conference to seek out opportunities and organizations I could potentially join once I graduate from medical school. Along with Emily and few classmates, we went to Louisville for what turned out to be an incredible experience. It reminded me, in a deeply personal way, of one of the main drivers behind my decision to become a physician—to help the underserved both internationally and in the U.S.
The third year of medical school is the classic time for students like Emily and me to start honing in on a specialty for once we graduate. I started my third year without any clear and obvious specialty choice, and tried to keep an open mind throughout my rotations. However, at the conference I was surprised to find that I developed a growing interest in family medicine. As a family medicine physician, I would manage a patient’s primary care while also having opportunities to receive additional training in emergency, obstetrics or global medicine. These are skills that particularly interest me as I plan to practice in a rural setting. I have increasingly realized my heart’s desire is to impact and add value to my patients’ lives by investing in their health and providing continuity of care over many encounters.
At the conference I was surprised to learn the practice of reframing every encounter we have with a patient as a mission opportunity, so that we see our work “not as merely a career in medicine, but as a call to healing.” I’m not talking about forcing awkward conversations of spirituality on patients, but rather honoring them as a human created in God’s image. To me, this can be as simple as taking a minute to ask a patient how they are feeling, rather than only assessing their pain on a scale from 1-10. It’s about knowing better their current struggles, taking the time to listen and being present to someone else’s struggles.
Overall, the conference was encouraging. Emily and I still have a long journey ahead to finish medical school and go through residency, but this conference helped me realize that you don’t have to travel internationally to do mission work. My long-time desire to do medical missions can start right now—while I’m still in school—through being intentional about the patient as a person and not just their medical diagnosis. Sometimes that means spending an extra few minutes in a patient’s room, hearing their story, or even offering to pray for them.
I still see mission trips in our future whether they are here in the U.S. or around the world. We feel called to provide care for those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to a doctor. It’s more than our calling. It’s our privilege.