By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Dr. Monica Minjeur wishes she had been able to connect with more Catholic physicians when she began her medical career. She didn’t feel comfortable prescribing contraceptives and was unsure how to navigate that discomfort as she looked for work. “I was scared initially when interviewing for jobs, because I was afraid that by not being willing to prescribe birth control, it would take away from what an employer was looking for and be seen as a negative thing.”
In time, she chose to reframe her situation by focusing on the potential benefits of her approach. “This helped me find a clinic that aligned with my beliefs but also saw the value that I brought to all clients that I serve.”
Dr. Minjeur shared this message at the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa last month. “It is possible to have a ‘mainstream’ career but still follow your own values and morals in how you choose to conduct business,” she explained to students and young professionals in attendance.
Newman Center staff and fellows have increased the opportunities for Catholic students and professionals to connect in recent years. “Being able to approach study and work with a Catholic perspective gives a framework for how to approach one’s work with both wonder and responsibility and see how our faith integrates into everything we do,” said Christine Wissink, director of outreach and education.
Newman Center hosts an annual Red Mass for members of the legal community, a White Mass for health care professionals and a Gold Mass for scientists. The Rossi Center for Faith and Culture sponsors guest speakers from a variety of fields, like Dr. Minjeur, who have chosen to live out their faith in the workplace. “This is a great way to get advice and be inspired by how others are living out their faith in the same profession as you,” said junior Ellie Behrens, a Health Promotion major. “It is easy to feel alone in our beliefs sometimes, but hearing how others are living out their faith provides hope.”
Last fall, Newman Center began hosting a monthly Christian Healthcare Ethics seminar led by Dr. Lauris Kaldjian, director of the Program in Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. In these talks, he explores the opportunities medical professionals have to love and care for people in need. He is honest about the challenges of practicing medicine in a morally pluralistic society. “We need to acknowledge that people disagree about ethics, including healthcare ethics,” he said. “Different healthcare professionals sometimes have competing perspectives about what is good for patients, about what is harmful, and even about what health is.”
Fourth-year medical students Sawyer Goetz and Peter Eckard said the seminars have provided a valuable opportunity for students to reflect on what inspires healthcare professionals to provide the best care possible in a just manner. “The sessions have allowed for discussions on critically important topics that help us learn more about Christian healthcare ethics in general and reflect on principles that will guide our future practice,” Eckard said. Both students plan to graduate in May and are in the process of applying for residency — Eckard in otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) and Goetz in radiology.
Additionally, Newman Center expanded its Catholic Studies Scholars program. Several students are doing research on how the Catholic faith relates to their major and intended professions, Wissink said. Students’ topics include “Investing Like a Catholic,” “Forgotten Catholic Women in Literature,” “How Writing Fiction Can Be a Sanctifying Vocation,” “Catholic Apologetics” and “Mental Health and the Belief in the Eucharist.”
Students lead the way
Newman Center members recently formed local student chapters of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) and the Society of Catholic Scientists. Goetz and Eckard began working to establish the student CMA chapter, Novus Medicus, after listening to a White Mass talk by CMA member Dr. Tim Millea in 2022. They believed a local chapter could provide opportunities for fellowship, service and education.
With help from the Newman Center, Goetz and Eckard reached out to the student organization office at the College of Medicine as well as the regional Novus Medicus director to determine the steps required to establish a chapter, they said. The group earned official recognition in September and has around 10 dues-paying members.
Gratitude for Newman Center
Behrens believes her involvement at Newman Center has prepared her to be an active member of her parish after graduation. Pre-med student Ethan Stallman said Newman Center has been “extraordinarily helpful in giving me reliable resources to further my knowledge and a network of Christ-centered individuals to learn more from to prepare me for a future career in medicine.”
He believes the Catholic faith “transforms all aspects of our lives so that we can be the best version of what we are called to do. To be the best that you can be in any profession, give it to God.”
In addition to other benefactors and supporters, “the witness of UI faculty, and their generosity toward young Catholics in pursuit of growing in their faith as well as their careers has been tremendous,” said Ann Thomas, outreach director. Also, the Catholic Medical Association and Society of Catholic Scientists are fostering important connections among departments. “This is critical in building a more confident Catholic presence on campus.”