Editor’s Note: Linda G. Fischer, a chaplain with the Palliative Care Team at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, offered the following as the opening invocation at the 2018 Interim Meeting of the AMA House of Delegates on Nov. 10, 2018. This reporter was so struck by the power of her words that I felt every Texas physician would benefit from reading them.
“Good afternoon! It’s good to be here. It’s good to be here on a beautiful autumn afternoon, Veteran’s Day weekend 2018. To those of you who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of this great country, I say thank you, thank you, thank you for your service.
“I’m grateful for the honor of offering the invocation today as you engage in the good work of the 2018 House of Delegates interim meeting. As a health care chaplain, I’ve had the opportunity to work side by side with dozens of physicians over the course of almost two decades of practice. Today, however, is the first time I’ve had a large captive audience of physicians and, in case it’s my last, I will take a moment to say a word to you that comes straight from my heart — and from my lived experience — trusting that you will hear.
“Over the years, I have watched highly skilled and dedicated physicians struggle, mightily, to practice the art of medicine in the shifting and ever-constricting landscape of health care in this country. I have watched physicians struggle to retain a sense of their vocation as healers in a culture that simply wants you to finish an exam in 15 minutes and keep moving. I have watched physicians suffer and ultimately burn out under the burden of caring too much within a system that is often deaf and blind to suffering in any form. And, at the same time, on a daily basis, I have witnessed physicians continue to show up at the bedside of the one who suffers, following their better angels, offering the very best of themselves in the service of healing as they continue to strive to be powerful, effective, and compassionate advocates for the health and well-being of all people within a medical culture that has, in some respects, lost its way.
“Now I borrow shamelessly from one of your own, Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, a physician-healer who has been a powerful voice for integrative and holistic medical care and an advocate for physician wellness for decades. Here are the words of Dr. Remen, as she speaks to ‘what matters most:’
In this difficult time in the history of medicine, I have found strength in some very simple things. Old things. There is a deep river of meaning that runs through this work, whether you are a doctor or a nurse, a psychologist, a chaplain, or a social worker. Remembering this meaning daily is what keeps us alive in this work and protects us from exhaustion. The meaning of this work has not changed in thousands of years. It is a part of our lineage. The doctors of many generations ago would have envied us our tools, our scientific reach, and our therapeutic power. But they would have understood our intention and purpose perfectly because they shared it with us. The meaning of medicine isn't science. The meaning of this work is service. Service is not a work of the intellect; service is a work of the heart and soul.
“And so I say to each of you here today and to your many colleagues — and please, my friends, spread this word: You. Are. Enough. You. It is not your scientific expertise that blesses and heals others; it is your humanity, your deep compassion, and your intention, as a healer. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your service and for the good work you undertake in this House of Delegates meeting. Standing as you are able, we pray:
“Spirit of Compassion. Infinite Source of all Wisdom, Healing, and Peace. God of 10,000 Names: We stand before you in this moment with grateful hearts for the sheer gift of life and breath in the body; in gratitude for the love of family and friends; for the gift of home and country, and for the sacrifice of those who protect our freedom. We are grateful also for the privilege of having been given meaningful work to do, both at the bedside, as well as here, today, in the work that lies before you. Now, may Divine Wisdom open the door of your creative imagination, sharpen your intellect, inspire your heart, and strengthen your resolve to work for the good of all people, in the service of making health care whole. This we pray, O God, not knowing our need but trusting in you.
“Amen. Amen. Amen.”