Whole-person care…is GRRREAT !

Tony the Tiger recently sought care at Siloam.  Listed as “Tony Tiger” in our electronic health record, Vanderbilt Medical Student Enoch Sizto was given a patient’s perspective on the entire clinic process.  Preparing for his new patient appointment, Enoch remembered to bring his identification (see accompanying photo). Tony Tiger - Enoch Shizto 2-2014

We want our trainees to see that in our attempt to provide whole-person care we need a team committed to making that experience possible.  The best practice examples of whole-person care extend beyond what goes on in the exam room between the patient and the practitioner.  Every staff member plays a role in caring for the whole person…from taking a patient phone call, to check-in, to triage, to the lab, and eventually to check-out…how staff address and care for patients is critically important.

This is not merely a “good customer service” technique, although I certainly do not knock the need for customer service training.  Whole-person care starts with the heart of the individual providing the service.  They must know themselves to be deeply loved creations of God…and, be encouraged by team members and leadership…and, supported by organizational policies and procedures.

Some ways we carry this out at Siloam is hiring staff that understand deeply our mission and can abide by our core values.  It follows with daily moments of renewal of spirit in prayer huddles to seek God’s blessing upon the shift ahead of us.  It is supported by a weekly staff meeting that allows us to form community (team-building) and reflect upon our purpose and study the scriptures.

Making whole-person care “Grrreat!” is not a destination but a process.  We continue to learn as we go.  What systems, processes or people have you experienced that make whole-person care possible in your life?

Wrestling to Find Purpose

One of the best parts of this journey is being challenged to think about my life and how I want to live. hopeI know I’m blessed. Blessed to be in this position. Blessed to grow up in the comforts of life in America. But now what? To go on living my life normally as if all the stories I’ve heard and the lessons I’ve learned don’t exist would be a lie. Living in a world of excess just doesn’t seem right when I’ve been exposed to a world of need.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36

My search for God’s will and purpose for my life came to a striking and harsh reality last Friday morning. I walked into a room with Dr. Watson to see a middle-age male refugee for the first exam of the day. The man had been to Siloam many times over the past 6 months because of constant excruciating headaches and leg and arm pain. The problem was that the providers could not find anything wrong. They had him try many different medications and even sent him to a neurologist, but physically everything seemed normal.

Dr. Watson began asking him about his life. At the previous visit, he had mentioned that he had a fear of losing his job. Now, he told us that he lost that job. He worries about his family, all of whom are in Burma including his wife. He sometimes has thoughts of ending his life because he doesn’t want to live with this constant pain and doesn’t believe he has a purpose.

Sitting next to this man, I could see the sadness in his eyes. I could feel the desperateness this man exuded. I had a glimpse into the bare rawness of this human soul. The contrast was striking. I was looking for a purpose for my future. He was looking for a purpose to have a future. I knew then that no human words would give this man a will to live. And so I prayed. Prayed that the God that first breathed life into this man would breathe a life of hope, love, and purpose in him again.

Melissa Puntkattalee - CHI 2013 participantJane is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Eye Opening

Last Thursday morning the seven of us (Claire, Jane, Olivia, Caleb, Elias, James, and I) traveled to our first spiritual retreat with Debbie Smith at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.  Bench  in garden - St BartholomewI wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled up to the church’s rectory.  We sat around on retro couches facing a large window in the living room.

After introducing ourselves, we dove into reading and discussing an excerpt from Mudhouse Sabbath followed by an introduction to Lectío Dívína, a process that uses Scripture to listen to God.  However, it was the next session that was the most exciting and out of the box experience.  Debbie had shared with us how to combine praying Scripture and imagination to allow God to speak to us through the practice of gospel contemplation.

The seven of us left the rectory, as we had an hour and a half to spend with God in either the church’s sanctuary or along the gorgeous walking path.  I walked slowly as I opened my heart and soul to receive what message God had for me.  As I walked to my special spot, a bench just off the path, my feet reached the grass of the small meadow that the path surrounded.  I thought to myself how I didn’t want to get my feet all wet and grassy as it had rain that morning but I continued to walk further into the meadow.  To my great surprise, my feet were not getting wet as the grass seemed to be somewhat dry.  That’s when it hit me that God cares even about our smallest and non-significant wants and desires.

As I sat down on the bench, I began to read the scripture that was picked out for us, Mark 10:46-52 and I let my imagination run. Jericho started to come to life.  I smelled bread baking, heard children laughing and the sound of the wheels turning on the carts being pulled by donkeys.   I then saw Jesus surrounded by a large crowd as I began looking around for the blind man, I was surprised to find out that I was playing the role of the blind man.  This surprised me as I thought that I would have been someone off to the side watching what took place.  I began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David!” only to be hushed like in the passage.  When I made it to Jesus he said, “Child, what can I  do for you?”  I suddenly felt the challenge and oddity of this exercise and prayed for guidance.  I then re-entered my mini “movie” and Jesus said, “I heal you from your anxiety.”

It was at this moment I realized that my anxiety was holding me back in worship, fellowship, and in understanding God’s plan for me.  As the hour and a half came to an end, I felt God had said to me, “I OPENED your eyes now didn’t I? I do not work in the ways that you expect but trust that everything is done with a purpose and with my plan in mind.”  This brings me so much comfort in everyday life and with my journey with Siloam.

I am not going to understand all the cultures with which I come in contact, nor the suffering and hardships of the refugees, nor the health conditions of the patients but God knows their individual stories and is graciously weaving them all into my own story.

Madison Brown - CHI 2013 participantMadison is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Living Out A Grander Story

Claire Johnson - CHI 2013 participant

I’m going to be honest: I am one of the least qualified candidates for the position of CHI intern. Perhaps it’s due to the myriad of paradoxes in my life–I’m an English major studying medicine, for example–but I don’t often feel as if I have a comfortable niche in this life. I am a storyteller, interested in the lives of those around me and how I can glorify the Lord through creating happier endings. Far from hindering me, I view this discomfort as a great blessing because it serves to keep me humble, knowing that no good thing comes to me from personal merit, but solely from above.

I applied for the CHI internship several months ago prayerfully, realizing that the pool of qualified, 4.0 GPA applicants filled a wide hoop that I did not fit into. Although I knew acceptance was a stretch, when I came across the program something deep inside my heart whispered go. The opportunity seemed to speak to the hidden part of my passion that longs to live in this worldly culture but not of it, to be a part in a grander story. In Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles In a Thousand Years, he describes story as “any character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”, which brings me to ask myself what kinds of conflict define my day-to-day life? Petty arguments with my friends? Stress over grades/relationships/desires? Reading Miller’s novel brought to my attention that I was created for conflicts bigger than the ones I’ve been living. I’ve been living a story focused on the mundane details of my own life, when I’m called towards a story that encompasses the breadth of humanity.

Acceptance into the CHI program caused conflict in my home: my wonderful parents could not understand what part of me felt the need to intern 9 hours away from home, to work without pay, to uproot myself the summer before my senior year at Hope College. Surely these opportunities are everywhere, they said; however, after hearing my excitement and watching the CHI video, they quickly were sold to the eternal impact of the opportunity with the Siloam Institute. My sweet mother gave me the best commendation when she mentioned that the CHI internship seemed like something my favorite author, Bob Goff, would endorse: a summer spent loving others and loving God by doing. By being present. By writing a greater story.

As I write this I’m sitting at my home in rural Michigan. My brother sits across from me watching the movie A Knight’s Tale, and I’m realizing that like the movie’s protagonist I hope that I, too, can “change the stars”; both the stars of my own monotonous existence and the stars of worldwide healthcare. With the Lord beside me I look forward to the upcoming summer to help me understand my role in that change, and to beckon me onward to adventure. Onward to a bigger story. Onward to a love that does.

Editor’s note: Claire is one of six pre-medical students from across the country who will spend the summer in Nashville in a Community Health Immersion.

Wow, This is Real!

Madison Brown - CHI 2013 participantI can’t believe it was only two months ago that I first heard about CHI and now I am writing the first blog that marks the beginning of my journey.  Roughly two weeks ago, we had our first conference call and I got to talk to the amazing people who will be with me on this exciting (but nerve-racking) adventure.  I truly can’t wait to meet Jane, Claire, Caleb, and James.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to share with my church about my summer plans in Nashville, Tennessee!  It couldn’t have gone any better.  I had so many people come up to me afterwards telling me that this is the perfect fit for me.  It was an enormous  confirmation that this is where God wants me to be this summer.

Trust in God and fear Nothing!



Discernment – a sorting process

Guest blogger, Debbie Smith, MA, Director for the Center for Women in Medicine, is a life coach and leader with Medical Christian Fellowship at Vanderbilt.  She serves on the Siloam Institute’s oversight committee. Today, she writes about discernment and announces a Nashville-area discernment retreat.

Debbie writes…

Sorting Hat - Harry Potter

House affiliation is discerned using the “Sorting Hat” in Harry Potter’s adventures.

As I meet with medical trainees and professionals, one of the most common questions that comes up is how to know which option to choose when they are confronted with a fork in the road.  Whether it is something as large as vocational calling and direction or as ordinary as how to handle a relational interaction with a classmate or colleague, there is a longing to know how to make good choices.

Recently, I have met with many trainees who are contemplating choices such as choosing a residency program; whether they should take a year away from medical school to participate in personal or professional growth opportunities; how to navigate difficult family relationships, or whether to make a significant financial expenditure.  One of the things I have learned from my own spiritual journey is that God cares about every facet of our lives and that He longs for us to turn to Him for guidance and companionship as we sort out the options before us.

The discernment process is just that – a sorting process.  In her book, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Ruth Haley Barton says:  “Discernment literally means to separate, to discriminate, to determine, to decide or to distinguish between two things.  Spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish or discriminate between good (that which is of God and draws us closer to God) and evil (that which is not of God and draws us away from God).”  She also quotes Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, in defining the goal of discernment as “finding God in all things in order that we might love and serve God in all.”

One of my goals for the work of spiritual formation that I am engaged in within the medical community is to provide contexts for individuals to slow down and engage with the questions that are swirling in their mind and heart.  Our culture, and particularly the culture of medicine, doesn’t always encourage this sort of thoughtful reflection and prayerful consideration, but Jesus invites us: Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Medical Christian Fellowship will host a Day of Discernment retreat on Saturday, February 9th from 9 am – 4 pm at St. Barthlomew’s Church (Nashville, Tennessee, USA).  To register, click here to download the registration form.

Research fellow experiences the spiritual dimension of patient care

Leon Darghosian is a research fellow at Vanderbilt University who volunteers at Siloam as an Arabic interpreter.  He writes of his experience…

A friend introduced me to Siloam Family Health Center when I was looking for a place to volunteer ten months ago. Being a physician from Syria and doing research work at Vanderbilt, a volunteer role at Siloam would help me better know the community where I’ve lived for the last two years.

At first, Siloam sounded just like any other medical clinic that treats people but the longer I’ve been there the more I’ve come to realize that it is an extraordinary clinic.  I’ve always thought that the spiritual element does not factor into a physician’s career.  But it has become clear to me during my time at Siloam that the spiritual dimension can take place in treating patients.  During one busy shift, I saw Dr. Morgan Wills, whom I describe as a humble doctor, pray over his patient.  This was a very touching gesture that moved me to understand that as a doctor and as a person, I can serve and share God’s grace to everyone who comes in for healing.  This has changed the way I look at my career.

Two months ago, I was interpreting for Dr. Kristin Martel who was seeing an elderly patient who was coughing and holding her abdomen in pain.  After Dr. Martel’s treatment, I could tell by the look in the patient’s eyes that she was given extraordinary care.  All these experiences heightened my enthusiasm to practice medicine and incorporate the experiences that Siloam gave me.

My volunteering taught me the fundamental lesson of treating the whole person and treating every patient with compassion.  Being an international fellow, Siloam is home to me. I am at ease working with other volunteers and doctors.  There is something in the clinic and in the people inside of it that gives me a big reason to go and serve after my work.

Siloam is place where I experienced God’s presence.

Siloam is a place where God works through people.

Siloam is a place where you and I would want to be.