Why I am leaving medicine for good

When I tell people that I left a career in medicine to go into the church they usually respond in one of two ways. The majority cannot quite understand why someone would leave a high-flying and respectable career to chose something far lower down the socioeconomic ladder. Perhaps in a previous generation, a move to the church would have been generally well received, but not so today.

The second response is one of indifference.  ‘Well, whatever makes you happy,’ people say to me. They have obviously never worked in a church. I can safely say that church ministry is far more difficult, gut-wrenching and emotionally draining than the busiest day on the wards.

So why have I left the medical profession?  Simply put, it’s this: no scalpel can cut deep enough.  Spend enough time in A&E and you may come to understand what I mean. A reasonable number of people seek medical attention through various access points across our healthcare system, get the help they need at the time, and recover from their ailments.  All well and good.  But there are so many other people whose primary issue is not physical at all, it is located much deeper, who look to the healthcare system to help them in areas that the medical profession is helpless to do anything.

This may sound very naive or regressive, but let me explain. Most people will acknowledge that to be a human being one must possess not only a certain collection of cells and atoms, but a mind also – a psyche – that cannot be explained on the basis of cells and atoms alone. Whereas the body is the realm of physiology, of anatomy and pharmacology, the mind is responsible for decision-making, memory, control mechanisms. In addition to body and mind – the physical and the psychological – humans also possess a spiritual component, a soul. The soul concerns one’s character, it gives humankind immense significance above all other life forms, and allows an ability for us to relate to something ‘out there’.  In reality, things aren’t so neat. Humanness transcends these simple groupings and they are all inter-related.

Human disease therefore is never limited to one particular sphere but since all are connected – body, mind and spirit – all are related. A disease primarily of the physical realm will impinge on the psychological and spiritual.  A psychological issue can often have physical symptoms and so on. Both will have a spiritual effect.

This one core teaching of the Bible came home to me a few years ago: as humankind, our primary problem is spiritual, not physical or psychological. After mulling over the implications of this for many months, I came to the conclusion that no scalpel can cut deep enough to cure the ultimate human disease – that which is caused by dysfunction in the human spiritual realm – a disease that the Bible diagnoses as sin.

All we can ever do as doctors is prolong life.  None of us saves life. At best we can give someone a few more months or years. People keep getting sick.

I found the Bible’s answer to the disease of sin utterly compelling – compelling enough for me to walk away from a medical career in a heartbeat. There is a cure for our most basic and ultimate problem, and that is found in the Christian gospel. Bringing this message to those around me became my life’s ambition. My payscale has taken a definite nose-dive. My career choice is generally seen as crazy by people who don’t know the gospel. I now drive a Volvo and not a two- seater sports car. Small prices to pay to be able to make known the most radical, life-saving treatment that the world has ever seen.