While living in the lush mountains around Charlottesville, Va., and working as a chaplain at the University of Virginia Medical Center, the Rev. Chip Edens spent a third of his time not with patients, but with doctors and medical students.
They struggled with the extraordinary pressures of large numbers of patients and long hours while also trying to have a life outside the hospital, said the Rev. Edens, an associate rector at St. Paul's Episcopal Church since June 1996. "I discovered that many also had a very difficult time integrating their faith with their professional and private lives."
Their questions about finding God in their busy, technological world or applying their faith stuck with him. In August, he called the first meeting of the Society of St. Luke the Physician. The group offers an open forum where physicians can talk about issues related to Christianity and the practice of medicine.
The first meeting included about 20 doctors, students and other health care professionals who met at the home of Dr. Robert Crumrine, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the Medical College of Georgia. The topic was understanding health care as a Christian calling.
The society is interdenominational and diverse. Some members are going to church regularly; some are not, said the Rev. Edens. "We are not trying to get them to join a church, but to create a resource."
While physicians shouldn't try to convert patients, their faith should inform their practice, he said.
"There is a real need to focus on humaneness and compassion," the Rev. Edens said. How can a physician enter a crisis situation yet convey concern for the individuals involved rather than for a lot of technical details the patient or family may not understand or even retain? he asked.
The physician, however, must deal with technical details nonetheless. Doctors are called upon to make decisions; they are the consummate executives because their decisions affect other people's lives, said Dr. Tom Swift, chair of the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia.
"You can't desert a family and say, `This is just over my head,"' he said. "You either give them advice or turn the case over to a doctor who will."