Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7, NIV (1984)

Much like a pilot does before takeoff, a surgeon has a checklist of items to review in order to assure patient safety. Some of the items on this checklist include verification of proper documents; marking the patient; and stopping, prior to making an incision, to verify with all parties in the operating room that the procedure scheduled is the one to be performed.

In the summer of 2010, I was invited to go on a two-week trip to Kenya. Most of what we did was nonsurgical, but I did see many spine-related problems. My training and practice were dedicated to spine surgery; so, after returning home, I decided to go back to Africa a second time. I researched and found a hospital that could accommodate a spine surgeon. I was introduced to a mission hospital run by the Presbyterian Church.

Arrangements were made with the sponsoring hospital, a spine company was found who would donate instrumentation, and surgical instruments were borrowed from my local hospital. Nine months later, in March of 2011, I was on my way back to Kenya to do what I love most: spine surgery.

After reviewing potential surgical candidates, I prepared to do my first case. Many orthopaedic procedures had been done at Kikuyu Hospital, but never a spine case. I had many things on my mind and wanted to make sure that our team was prepared. After the patient was prepped and draped, I asked for a “surgical time-out.”

I was expecting to hear a nurse, with a clipboard in hand, do the usual question-and-answer routine I had become accustomed to at our hospital, but I heard no such thing. Instead, after a significant delay, a small voice behind the portable x-ray machine said, “I’ll pray.” A prayer was offered for the patient and all the people involved in the operation, as well as for God’s blessing.

I thought to myself, “I’ll pray.” How significant that surgical time-out was. It involved not a checklist of things to do and not to do, but direct communication to our Father in Heaven, the Ultimate Healer. It has been 25 years since completing medical school, where I was commissioned to “go out into the world and make man whole.” But it took a small voice, hidden behind the x-ray machine, half way around the world in Africa, to emphasize the importance of prayer.

Prayer, thus, is simply pausing and asking God for guidance–not only in our medical practice, but in everything we do in life. Just think how many times you could have avoided trouble if you only would have stopped, paused, and asked God for direction. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, writes in chapter 4, verses 6 and 7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

You do not have to be hidden to pray; you can be in the middle of your clinic, in front of a staff meeting, or in your car. Pray often–He will gladly grant you peace and guide your heart and mind.

Joseph M. Verska, LLUSM class of 1987, is an orthopeadic surgeon in Boise, Idaho. He and his wife, Desiree, have three daughters. He enjoys volunteering overseas and has worked in the Ukraine, Philippines, South Africa, and in Kenya where this story took place.