Have you ever wondered where Jesus would be found working if he were a junior doctor today, or how he would respond to the challenges of practising modern medicine? Over the next few articles we are going to look at some of the difficulties and rewards of being a Christian working in some particularly problematic areas for junior doctors. We start with those working on the front line in hospital, in the Accident and Emergency department. Most foundation doctors will spend time here, and those in specialty training are often called back there to advise or assist. In short, it is a department we are all likely to be involved with.
Emma Lowe is a junior doctor working in a busy A&E department in the centre of Leeds. Here she shares some of her experiences: both the challenges and the rewards A&E offers.
A&E: I love it there
It was with a sense of trepidation that I started working in A&E this August and donned my shell-suit style green scrubs for the first time. Yet it is with real sadness that I will say goodbye to working there. It has been one of the most challenging, stressful and rewarding few months of my life and although sometimes the challenges seemed too much, it is probably through these that I have learnt so much and come to love it there.
It is impossible to talk about the challenges of emergency medicine without mentioning time management. The four-hour breach rule is a constant pressure and often dictates what we can do for our patients while they are in the department. This is not such a problem when the department is quiet, but when a patient has waited 3 hours 45 minutes to see a doctor there is limited scope for the Christian challenge of going the extra mile. (1) However, if by doing more than is required we let a patient breach, the hospital gets fined and this may prevent someone else from doing his or her best for a patient.
Looking for God's hand
For me the challenge has been looking for God's hand in the department. We look after the 'hungry or thirsty…and sick' (2) and God has clearly pointed out to me the patients I did have to go the extra mile for. People often come to A&E when their lives are in crisis, so we should not underestimate how potent a single intervention can be. It is important to remember we do not work for bed managers and targets but for our patients. We are reminded that 'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'. (3) Every day we are working for God's glory, whether we have lots of time or only a little, and should be 'working at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men'. (4)
Another time related challenge is the constantly changing rota with very few conventional shift times. The lack of a regular shift pattern, and often being at work when friends and family are free can make it a lonely job. Working alternate weekends and countless evenings makes regular attendance at church and small groups impossible and finding 'quiet time' a struggle. I have found no easy solution to this other than making a concerted effort to make God a priority in my life. Indeed, we are reminded that it is by spending time with God that we get true rest. (5)
Facing suffering daily
Facing suffering on a daily basis has been one of the hardest spiritual challenges. Although we hear daily about suffering in the news, and I was used to dealing with patients who are very unwell, suffering is often more acute in A&E. On one occasion I watched a child die in 'resus' and then heard their parents' grief as they absorbed the news. Other times I heard how some of the regular attendees came to be homeless and alcohol-dependent through massive personal tragedy. It has been a personal challenge to understand and reconcile this with my faith. The answer to the age old question of suffering is beyond the scope of this article, but it has been through the help of CMF and other Christian literature, prayer, and the support of Christian friends and family that I have come to a greater understanding of this.
Challenges and rewards
I could write almost endlessly about the challenges and rewards of the emergency department. It is often at the most difficult times in our lives that we feel God's presence and guidance most keenly and this has certainly been true over the past four months. I am frequently faced with situations I know I cannot deal with on my own, which leaves me with no option but to turn to God for help.
The Lord said to him, 'Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say.' 6
Whatever challenges A&E may throw at us, God is bigger than all of them, and he promises never to leave us, nor forsake us.