Keeping Your Faith in Medicine
By: Trisha Therese
Medicine is a field where every action you take has to be justified by research and scientific evidence. But as a Christian, the founding principles of what I believe are based on faith and things that I can’t prove or see. It’s important for me to uphold my religious beliefs but I’m not going to lie, since I started medical school I feel like I have to be more proactive than ever regarding staying true to my faith. Perhaps it’s because medical school is one of the most challenging journeys I have ever embarked on. Or maybe it’s because I constantly feel like believing in something I can’t prove goes completely against the evidence-based medicine I’m being taught to practice.
You may not be a Christian, but perhaps you identify with a different religion or faith. Or maybe you have your own set of cultural or traditional beliefs and practices that you like to follow. You may be like me, caught in the midst of two worlds – the scientific world where you act based on facts and reason and the spiritual world, where sometimes you step out with nothing more than faith and hope that you’ll stay afloat. I told myself that I didn’t want medical school to cause me to lose myself and the things I valued most. So how do I keep my academic reasoning from clouding my spiritual judgment? And how do I stay true to my beliefs when I work in a field that looks down upon spiritual and cultural reasoning?
I hope that the following tips can help you with finding a way to balance your spiritual and your academic life. Regardless of what you believe in (or don’t believe in) I think that these can be beneficial for any current or future medical student. My hope is that you can find ways to hold on to the values and the beliefs that you entered medical school with. It’s one thing to change your mind and decide you want to believe in something else, but it’s a whole other thing to have your career and academics make you lose sight of your core values.
Tip #1: Get Connected
Find a house of worship or a place that you can get spiritually connected to. I found a church home as soon as I moved to LA. It took a while and I had to try a bunch of churches but when I found my church, I knew that’s where I needed to be. I like my church specifically because there are multiple services, a midweek service, as well as online streaming. Even when I’m too busy to make it in person, there are a lot of opportunities for me to remain spiritually plugged in. Do research before medical school and see what places of worship are near your school or ask students who have a similar faith to you to see where they like to go.
Tip #2: Form Your Tribe
Whether it’s one person or a whole accountability group, you’re going to need someone in your corner. I have faith accountability partners from back home, but it was important for me to have friends in LA who I can go to for advice or prayer or whatever else I may need. We go to church together, text each other Bible verses, and send each other encouraging sermons to help us get through the week. One my friends is Muslim and because the health science programs at my school don’t have an established Muslim student organization, she got plugged into the undergraduate Muslim community. Get creative; perhaps your friends who share your faith may be in a different program or school than you. Expand your horizons and don’t limit yourself to your classmates.
Tip #3: Don’t Make it a Chore
It’s really easy for me to turn my faith into a chore… read my Bible, go to church, try to be a good person, blah, blah, blah. When I add these things to my to do list, it makes my already long list even longer. When I feel moved to do something like journal or go to church I try to be flexible and act on that in the moment. This works better for me than always assigning a specific time to practice my faith. As a result, living out my faith becomes something that I want to do instead of something I feel forced into or compelled to do.
Tip #4: Figure Out Your Non-negotiables
In medical school, it’s really easy to put your personal life on the back burner. There’s always something that you can study or review (the work is never ending). For a while, I prioritized school and class more than my own personal affairs. I realized that class and lab were non-negotiables and when I needed to make space in my schedule, my workouts, my faith, and catching up with friends/ family were always the first to go. You can’t do everything you want while being a medical student, but contrary to popular belief there is time to relax, laugh with friends, workout, or do whatever it is that de-stresses you. Pick a few things that matter most and make them non-negotiables in your schedule. For me this was Wednesday evening church service and allotting at least an hour/ day to call or FaceTime those back home.
Like I said before, I promised myself that I wouldn’t allow medical school to make me lose sight of myself and the things that mattered the most to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 3 years into the medical school game, and I still find it hard to put down my books to journal, or stop studying so I can talk to my loved ones on the east coast before they go to bed (time zone differences really suck). The decision to prioritize yourself is something that you might have to re-commit to everyday. At the end of the day, remember that you are more than a medical student. Your culture, your beliefs and your values are unique to you and are what make you special. Don’t lose sight of yourself, and the things that matter to you the most.
If you care to follow along the rest of my medical school journey, then stop by my blog at www.threethousandmilesblog.com where I talk more about my faith, medical school, and transitioning to Los Angeles! See you there!
I want to thank Trisha for sharing such a honest perspective. I am often asked about this topic and I am glad more people are talking about maintaining their religious and spirituality while in medical school.
Trisha is a 3 rd year medical student in Los Angeles. She attended Harvard University and graduated in 2013. She is committed to working with the urban underserved both domestically and abroad. She is also passionate about exploring the intersection of media and medicine. Trisha is a proud reality TV connoisseur and in her free time she loves to workout, bake, and explore her new home of Southern California. You can find her on her blog www.threethousandmilesblog.com or on Instagram