By Jamie Shafer
“For me, it’s all about one-on-one interaction with the patients,” shared Stephanie Hart, a general surgery resident in Johnson City, Tennessee. Based on her calm demeanor in the middle of the day, one might be surprised to learn she is between surgeries in the midst of yet another busy 80-hour workweek, her regular routine for the past few years.
Currently she is in her fourth year of a five-year residency program, working within five different hospitals. As she moves closer to embarking on this new phase of her career journey, she and her husband, Justin, are also looking forward to the arrival of their first child later this year. Their lives are full of new beginnings.
Stephanie said she began telling her mother at age 5 that she would become a doctor. Originally she declared that her future would be focused on becoming a veterinarian. However, the dream ended when, in her early teenage years, she had the opportunity to shadow a country veterinarian and saw some of the behind-the-scenes realities, like putting down an old dog. However, her dreams of entering the medical field persisted.
She remembers, “I thought I was going to be a pediatrician, but then I did surgery and found out I was just in love with so many parts of it. I loved to fix people. I loved using my hands. It was like something just clicked for me.”
She also said that this shift was an “eleventh-hour decision” she made when it was almost time for her to apply for a residency. “I thought about how I would use this and wondered if it was truly a new vision or calling.” In the end, Stephanie said she knew general surgery is where God was calling her to go.
“I knew this was where I needed to be. It was a similar setting, but I couldn’t completely see the vision ahead of me. [Life] really is an always-evolving process. You don’t get everything all laid out at one time.”
Each day Stephanie is able to live her faith through her care for the patients around her. “Some doctors don’t want to have much personal contact, but I believe it’s important to really talk with patients. They are going to trust you to open them up and fix something. That requires a great degree of trust, and for me, part of earning that trust begins with thinking about how Christ would treat them. These are people who are not having their best day. It’s all about patient interaction.”
Relying on Prayer
In the midst of the day, Stephanie finds that Romans 8:26 is especially meaningful to her, as it talks about how the Spirit intercedes for us with wordless groans. “I think of this for patients, and I think of this for myself sometimes. It’s exhausting each day, but I think, ‘Lord, we’re in this together.’ Sometimes even our tears can be prayers. It’s an act of faith when we don’t have a flowery offering for God.”
Beyond her own prayers, she sometimes has the opportunity to pray with patients. “Recently a woman who was going in for surgery said, ‘I just want you to say a prayer before you operate on me.’ And I asked, ‘Do you want to pray right now?’ She said yes. It was a powerful moment for me to step out of the norm. I’m never shy about acknowledging my own faith, but I also don’t want to be intrusive to someone else.”
Stephanie and her husband, who has served as a hospital chaplain, are also drawn to help in the world in larger ways and would like to explore disaster response or refugee assistance. She noted, “I’m drawn to the idea of offering physical help and spiritual help. I think about things like, how do you set up order in the midst of chaos? What kind of medical care could we possibly offer in the midst of chaos?”
Another regular habit for Stephanie includes remembering the words from St. Patrick’s prayer, which include, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left.”
She shares, “I often pray this as I am scrubbing before surgery to remind me that I’m not going in alone.”
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.