By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Working in palliative care at a Catholic hospital in Colorado, Dr. Natalie Rodden and her team give homework assignments to families. Find a picture of your loved one doing something he/she likes to do. “They often bring a lot,” she said during a presentation to dozens of medical professionals, clergy and friends of the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities.
Her talk, following the White Mass Oct. 19 at St. Ambrose University, focused on maintaining a joy-filled life in health care despite the pressures and stresses experienced today.
Putting up photos in a patient’s room helps her team and hospital staff get to know the patient better, she said. “We don’t just see tubes. We see Grandpa holding a bass fish or mom on vacation. This helps humanize who we are and what we are doing.”
She reminded her audience that suffering is not the end, but a uniting with Christ. While she loves her work as a palliative care specialist and a member of the hospital’s ethics committee, she has at times questioned the joy in medicine.
When deciding on a specialty, one of her colleagues suggested that she consider palliative care. At the time, she was not familiar with the specialty. She learned that palliative care is medical care for people living with serious illnesses. The goal is to improve quality of life for the patient and family.
She wondered whether she could walk the talk about being a Catholic doctor in whatever specialty she chose. She referred to Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s homily in which he said health care is about keeping the patient at the center of health care — not the medical professionals, not the medical system — but the patient.
The issues of contraception, abortion, embryonic cell research, euthanasia, sterilization, cloning and physician assisted suicide represent the grave realities in health care today. Her focus is caring for life.
At times, she has felt discouraged, she said. Just three months after starting her job in Colorado, physician assisted suicide became legal in that state. “It’s a balancing act between faith and work.” She said burnout for those in the medical profession is real.
To avoid burnout, she recommended gaining a sense of achievement, finding meaning in daily work, focusing on one’s strengths, collegial support, investing in relationships, self-care and, most importantly, spirituality. “The saints are amazing people who live lives like us and still achieve holiness.”
Medical professionals need to put love into their work and make it holy, she said. “Give God our best.”
Do so by taking time for God and listening to God. Have someone with you to stay strong, such as a spiritual director. Give of yourself and think outside the box. Live a life outside of work. For Rodden, that means serving as a sponsor for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). She encouraged professionals to consider community service.
Before her talk, Bishop Zinkula spoke during his homily at the White Mass of the calling of all as missionary disciples who share the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Joy in the Gospel, with others. “This includes Catholic Christians who are health care professionals. Jesus Christ should be at the center of your health care — dare I say it — ministry. And Jesus, in turn, basically says to put your patients at the center of your ministry.”
Pope Francis tells the faithful to go to peripheries, to people who are sick, injured and elderly.
Jesus shares his earthly healing power with health care professionals, Bishop Zinkula said.
“God is calling health care professionals to become people who are inspired to imitate Jesus Christ … by the manner in which they practice medicine — which is by having loving, personal encounters with their patients.”