Salvation belongs to the LORD; Your blessing be upon Your people! ~ Psalm 3:8, NASB

After reading Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, My Grandfather’s Blessings, I was challenged to live each busy day as a medical professional with the goal of recognizing the spark of God in others. In the course of attending to the whole-person needs of my patients, I am afforded opportunities to touch and bless their lives by discovering ways to awaken or affirm their inner spark. Some days I remind myself that the anticipation of this awesome prospect is my reason for being on the road before dawn, heading to the hospital for another day of running between wards and patients and nurses, wondering if I will even know enough to be a competent physician. Though I doubt whether I will actually be able to profoundly bless each patient in the way I might hope, there is something about taking a moment to acknowledge the need for blessing that gives me purpose on this journey toward becoming a physician.

While the solitude of my morning commute allows me to formulate lofty goals of compassionate interactions with my patients, the bustling hallways and mechanical hums and beeps of the hospital wards quickly drown out my silent reflections. Louder still are the cynical and frustrated comments of my colleagues as the day wears on and as the many medical and psychosocial needs of our patients build up around us.

At one point, I listened sadly to my colleagues’ unconcerned conversation about a homeless patient who wanted to leave against medical advice – a man they had no intention of convincing otherwise. I recognize that one less patient on our busy team would lighten the daunting work load, but I cannot help but wonder if we failed this man by allowing him to leave with a problem that will inevitably bring him back in worse condition. More importantly, I worry that we have failed our calling as physicians by allowing ourselves to view this patient as a burden from which to free ourselves.

As I later reflect on this conversation and others like it, I realize that cynicism is a decision. Although I would like to think that the decision against cynicism is just as simple, I am increasingly aware of the pressure on medical professionals to adopt such perspectives about “difficult” patients. We are easily drawn into conversations and attitudes that are far from recognizing the spark of God in others.

Although I have yet to formulate the appropriate response to the cynicism in my colleagues, I feel more strongly every day that I want to be a doctor who sees each patient for the unique creation of God that he or she is. I want to combat the fatigue and discouragement that will inevitably come with this job by looking for how I can bless my patients and how they will bless me. Making the conscious decision to do this is the easy part – the challenge lies in living it out each day.

Gwen Gleason-Robrer, LLUSM class of 2008, is a resident in family medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.