Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. ~ 1 John 3:18, NIV

For medical students, getting through four years of college is hard enough, but then to follow that with four more years of medical school and three to five years of residency can be daunting. It is no wonder that many medical students and residents get discouraged along the way. They have late nights of studying, early mornings of patient rounds, long hours on their feet in the operating room, and, finally, evening rounds. What is their reward? They get to do it again the next day. That is their reward, but what is the reward they want?

For instance, what does every student of the surgical science dream of? “I want to operate!” The real reward comes when students get to experience the culmination of their educational journey. The student becomes the doctor and now, with instruments and suture in hand, the moment where “the rubber meets the road” is before him or her.

Two years after I finished my surgical training, I recognized one of these moments. A 17-year-old young man was taken to the operating room after being stabbed in the chest at a party. Initially, I thought the injury had been to the lung; but upon opening the young man’s chest and having pulsatile blood shoot three feet up into the air, we quickly realized the problem was in the heart.

I had the resident put his finger over the hole while the surgical technician and operating room nurse gathered the sutures we would need to repair the heart. While they assembled the supplies, I turned to our medical student and said something I never said before but have often repeated since. “This is where the rubber meets the road!”

“What do you mean?” the wide-eyed student asked, “I mean,” I replied, “I have thought about a case like this many times and have reviewed what I would do in my head. I have read about how to place the sutures so as not to tear the heart muscle and make the hole bigger. I mean this is where preparedness meets opportunity.”

That experience made me think of today’s verse: “Let us not  love with words… but with actions.” All the lectures, textbooks, sermons, and discussions we have ever read or listened to only matter inasmuch as we put those lessons to action. What is our reward? What is the culmination of our long educational journey in our walk with Christ? What opportunity are we being prepared for? I sincerely believe that in our journey as Christians, the rubber meets the road at every opportunity when we need to demonstrate love in a palpable, actionable way.

Two days later, I went by the ICU to check on our patient. This teenager, who was at death’s door two nights before was now having waffles and scrambled eggs for breakfast!

Nephtali R. Gomez, LLUSM class of 2004, is an instructor in LLUSM department of surgery and is director of the endocrine surgery division at LLUMC. He received Teacher of the Year Award in 2012.