Week 3 of Lent: Reflection No. 4 – Professionalism in the care of the sick and the dying
We began these reflections by considering our need to develop listening hearts in caring for the sick and the dying. We then considered our vocation to follow Jesus along the way of humility in caring for the sick and dying. Our last reflection considered our mission to be ambassadors of Gospel compassion for the sick and dying. In this reflection, we will consider the nature of being professional in our care of the sick and dying. This means being professional in our outlook and having a clear understanding of the boundaries involved in the care for the sick and dying.
Unfortunately, the modern world does not understand the meaning of being professional like we do. For example, the fact that in popular usage, we can speak meaningfully of someone being a professional ‘criminal’ or belonging to the ‘professional class’ suggests that the word has come to mean ‘skilful’ or being highly paid. To seek to benefit others rather than oneself, to be ethical, and being accountable to the public or to one’s clients, customers and patients becomes optional when we reduce the meaning of ‘professional’ to merely being skilful or paid for one’s work.
Rather, being professional in our Catholic tradition means that we are ethical, accountable, and seek to benefit others rather than oneself in the application of one’s skills. In this sense, seeking to benefit others rather than oneself also extends to having a clear understanding of the boundaries of one’s skills and expertise. In this sense, having appropriate boundaries is an act of humility, in the following of the way of Jesus (as discussed in our second Lenten Reflection). Of course, seeking to benefit others is but our response to the command of Jesus to love our neighbour (Mt. 22:37-40) – which is also a response of Gospel compassion to the suffering (as discussed in our third Lenten reflection).
It may also be helpful to reflect on the meaning of being ‘professional’ in a Catholic context by considering the call of Peter (Mt. 16:13-23). The call of Peter is about the nature of his identity in relation to Jesus. While others say that Jesus is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets, it is Peter alone who says that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of the living God.” This act of profession by Peter is followed by Jesus confirming the new identity of Peter as the rock on which Jesus will build his church.
In this sense, being a professional in its deepest identity is to be a disciple of Jesus, like Peter. Jesus asks of us, “who do you say I am?” Our response, even though it is imperfect, like that of Peter, is the foundation on which Jesus forms our professional identities in the healing ministry of the church, whose healing ministry continues the healing ministry of Jesus in the modern world today. There is then a relationship of communion between our professional careers and our faith, since Jesus continues to speak to us of his compassionate love for our patients, as well as calling us to follow him in our faith lives. In this way, evidence-based care of our patients becomes a means of effective care, through which we minister Gospel compassion to our patients.
Let us pray that through having, and nurturing listening hearts, we can enter into a relationship with Jesus, who will continue to bless, renew and strengthen our professional identity with his love and grace.
Dr Michael Tan is a retired GP in formation for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Parramatta. He has just been appointed to the Executive of the Catholic Medical Association in NSW.