2020 has been a very challenging time for the world. All of us have found ourselves in a different situation than we anticipated at the start of the year. Personally, it has brought a sudden halt to my work. Worldwide border restrictions have left me unexpectedly outside of my country of service. But along with the frustration, it has given me a chance to reflect on the past two years since I went overseas to work.
I had been living in an Asian city on a high plateau. After a period of language study, I started work as a doctor in the obstetrics and ultrasound departments of a local hospital. It was a really challenging start but I began to learn that to be accepted in a local context requires patience, humility and a healthy respect for the people and systems that surround you. As my relationships improved, so did the opportunities. Despite my basic language skills, I was invited to begin formal clinical teaching.
God had given me a vision to bring learning opportunities and up-to-date skills to people who lack access to them so that they, in turn, can better serve their own people. It is also my desire that healthcare workers may come to know Jesus, the Great Physician, and serve patients with the compassion that reflects His love for the world. As the initial months passed by, I found myself busy doing all the much-needed “good” things. Most of my days were occupied by acquiring general and medical language, preparing lessons and getting to know my colleagues and the culture of the hospitals. I was also learning about day-to-day clinical work in that context. As time passed by, I found little time to do anything else. While the response to my teaching was good, I had neither the time nor language ability to talk about the deeper issues of faith.
As I got more involved in the day-to-day working environment, a different set of challenges become apparent. Why is a stillborn baby treated with less care than a live birth? Why is life-saving treatment delayed while waiting for the family to make necessary phone calls to find the money to pay for it? Why is terminating a pregnancy the only option offered when certain maternal or fetal risks become known? Why is general decision-making done so differently to what I know as best-practice? Should we not treat a person, dead or alive, with or without money, with dignity? Should we not as healthcare workers give patients balanced advice regarding their choices? The underlying issues behind these questions are complex and I began to see that the foundations have something to do with how we view the value of a person. I believe that each person—each patient—is created in the image of God, valuable and priceless, and this affects how I treat them. But how can I show this to my colleagues?
One day, a lady doctor whom I had been working with asked me if I was someone with faith. I was surprised with this unexpected question as I had not yet had any direct conversations about matters of faith. I asked her the reason for her question. She had noticed an incident where a patient’s decision had upset me. From my reaction, she concluded that I must be someone with faith. We discussed the issues surrounding it, particularly the value of every life. That day I realised that I can begin by helping one person change one aspect of their worldview at a time, even though I’d like to change everything at once! This was exciting. It is possible, with the help of the Great Physician, to point others to Him through our daily choices and conduct.
We need evidence-based medical practices to improve patient outcomes. But just as importantly, we also need to model through our daily work the compassion and love that the Great Physician has for each life. Go, love the world, just as Jesus does.
Hannah is an obstetrician living and working in Asia.
Names have been changed.