Tobi Adeagbo considers the junior doctors' dispute. Tobi Adeagbo is an FY2 in Southampton and a member of CMF's Junior Doctors' Committee.
I first read about the dispute over the new junior doctors' contract six months ago. Although I wouldn't have predicted all that followed, doctors' reactions to the government's proposals certainly didn't surprise anyone. We are taught in medical school to analyse ethical scenarios involving consent, confidentiality, or autonomy, but very little prepared us for the dilemmas that that most doctors have had to face recently: to strike or not to strike? To stay in England or apply for jobs in Wales, Scotland or maybe even abroad? To even continue with medicine at all? Needless to say, there is a lot of anger and mistrust directed towards the government at present and with the outcome seeming to be in such a state of flux, it's no wonder many feel disillusioned.
God is greater
I'm sure we've all been told that problems can seem overwhelming until we lift our gaze and see just how limitless and astounding God is:
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:1-3)
There is great wisdom in realising that the only way to clearly make sense of any situation is to first start with knowing who God is and who we are in him. The Bible tells us of God's power and wisdom. Proverbs says that the heart of the king is like a stream of water in God's hand and that he is able to direct it wherever he chooses (Proverbs 21:1). Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father's knowledge, and we are worth much more to God than any sparrow! (Matthew 10:29-31) It's so easy to be disheartened by all that has been going on and by controversies that cast a shadow over day-to-day practice, however, the truth remains that God is sovereign. If we are able to remember that it's God (not the government and not us) who has the final say, then we have every reason to be encouraged.
With this in mind, we can confidently say that our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:17). Knowing this can often take away much, if not all, of the distress that comes with the present uncertainty, and allows us to more clearly think through some of the issues at stake. However, this isn't always the case. We may know these truths in our heads but it's not as easy for them to sink into our hearts. When this happens for me, I find the encouragement of other Christians invaluable. Faith is often built up through fellowship and at a time like this, the support and input of others is vital. Whether it's through prayer or simply through having an opportunity to air my doubts and concerns, I have often found my anxieties lessened by God's ministry to me through others.
To stay or not to stay?
When considering the current issues, some decide that leaving the UK is the most appropriate option; but for others this is neither feasible, nor right. Those who stay then have to decide if they continue to practise medicine. Most of us have asked this question at some point during medical school, and are feeling the need to do so once more. It is extremely difficult to leave a career that you have dedicated so many years of your life to, though for some this is the only real barrier. However, I feel that there is a stronger argument for continuing with medicine. It is a great privilege to work as doctors. We combine scientific and interpersonal skills in a way that most other jobs don't offer. We also look after and work with interesting and inspiring people, who challenge us and spur us on. We also appreciate the trust that patients place upon us and work hard to guard it. As Christians, it goes even further - we know that despite the difficulties we often face, this is the path God has called us to. Even for those who, like me, aren't necessarily certain of their calling to medicine, it is where we find ourselves placed. Therefore, we do, and ought to continue, walking along this path unless or until he draws us elsewhere.
I don't mean to imply that we should allow ourselves to become doormats, trodden upon by anyone who chances to cross the threshold of the NHS; but I do think the Bible gives guidance on deciding which battles to fight. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us that none of what we do should be driven by selfish ambition but that our actions should be marked with humility. We need to be looking out for the interests of others as well as our own.
Should we strike?
Earlier, I mentioned some of the new dilemmas that doctors have had to tackle; deciding whether or not to support the proposed strike action was, for me, the most difficult of these. It was a much more straightforward choice for many other Christian doctors I knew. They felt that the contract was not only unfair for doctors, but that it would be unsafe for patients. Additionally, they argued that it was another mechanism of undermining the NHS and would take us one step closer to privatisation of the healthcare system; and in light of this, they felt that strike action was more than justified. While I don't think it's possible to say that there is a blanket answer to whether striking was the right or wrong course of action to take, I do think that there is a right answer for each and every single one of us. As is the case with many things, it's a question of the heart. Whose cause am I championing - mine, my patients' or my colleagues? Whichever of those groups we speak for we must examine ourselves to make sure that above all, our fight is for Christ and his glory.
It is almost impossible to read comments from junior doctors about the current controversy without sensing the anger and outrage that is behind them. Is this anger justified? My feeling is that it is, and it is certainly understandable. But the anger of man doesn't accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Christians can't let that anger be the fuel behind our actions. There is a lot of anger directed towards individuals - but it is incredibly difficult to speak God's grace with a heart full of bitterness (as we see from Jonah's story). Rather than conforming to the world's pattern, this provides us with an incredible opportunity to be markedly distinct in our attitudes as believers. Every argument against the contract that is clearly stated, but without insult directed against the government or individual ministers, gives us the chance stand out. If we stand out, people will ask questions, and with our responses, we can give an answer for the hope that we have.
'What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?' (Romans 8:31). Though we are subject to government policy we are not helpless victims. Christians have tools more effective than anything the world can offer: we have access to the very ear of God whose kingdom reigns over all others. Jeremiah tells the Israelites in captivity to pray for the good of Babylon because 'if it prospers, you too will prosper' (Jeremiah 29:7). The same applies to us. The NHS, the government, patients and those we work with need our prayers. They always have; but perhaps we feel the urgency now more than ever.
Focussing on Jesus
Despite all the anxiety, these are exciting times! Doctors are engaged, and are starting to use the voice that we have always had (even though our words seem to be falling on deaf ears at present). The spotlight is directed toward us. How amazing would it be if, through our actions at this time, Christian doctors could instead turn the focus to Christ? Conversations will be happening all around us - people will want to know what the debate is all about and what our stand is. Take these opportunities to speak about how your faith helped shape your convictions. Meet with other Christians to pray! There will be many non-Christian medics who will also be feeling anxious about what's going on - offer to pray with them, and if you feel led to, invite them along to prayer meetings or church gatherings. Times of trouble often cause us to seek answers - let's make ourselves available to point others towards the one who has all the answers, Christ.