You started out studying engineering. Do you still have a little bit of the engineer in you?
Once you train as an engineer, you think as an engineer. It’s a problem-solving thing. You want to define the problem and assess the tools you have to solve it and identify the sciences that come into play. I can’t help it. I see engineers in my practice, and I can always tell they’re engineers from the way they talk and think.
What drew you to medicine?
In high school, my dad told me, “I think you could be a doctor.” I thought, “No way. That’s a lot of work. I don’t want all that schooling.” Most of the way through my engineering training, I got more interested. It’s hard to say exactly what it was, but I did sense a calling to medicine.
How does your faith interact with your practice of medicine, and what do you say to people who feel doctors should compartmentalize their faith and exclude it from their identity as a physician?
I’ll put it this way: I think a sacred trust is at the core of the doctor-patient relationship. I think that any patient — they could be an atheist — wants a relationship of trust with their doctor. To trust that your doctor will do the right thing for you and does not have mixed motives, they won’t push something out of pressure from some governmental body or medical society or group practice. So, you want your doctor to have this sense of responsibility to you alone. His or her moral perspective may differ from yours, and that can enter into the discussion. But you want this trust relationship.
How does the Catholic Medical Association support that kind of thinking?
Let’s face it, doctors are under a lot of pressure. It’s difficult sometimes, and may be getting more difficult, to offer what you feel is the right thing for a patient. Nowadays, what’s legal is not necessarily moral, and in the eyes of some, if you’re going to be allowed to practice, you’re expected to provide everything that is legal. What we’re trying to do is support physicians at these challenging times. It helps to feel that you’re not alone — there are other people who love their faith and want to do things properly in the eyes of God.
What are some of your goals for the Milwaukee Guild?
Doctors like to mentor, so we’re reaching out to the Catholic medical students at the Medical College of Wisconsin to make connections with them. In the past, we’ve supported the Hippocratic Oath Banquet for graduating medical students, and that’s something I would like to bring back. We’re doing more public events this year, and we have a speaker series this fall with talks from Dr./Sr. Edith Mary Hart and Fr. Nathan Reesman.
You have spoken and written extensively on end-of-life issues. How did you come to be passionate about that topic?
A lot of that really stemmed from my experience with my dad and my mom passing away. Thanks be to God, they both were able to die in their homes, surrounded by family, and I’ve come to realize how sacred that time is. It’s a holy time. My mom had 38 grandchildren, and some of the youngest ones were crying at her bedside, and she turned to them and said, “Stop. Don’t cry. All the angels and saints are surrounding us here.” I don’t know if she saw them or not, but I know she was right. And with each grandchild, she had something important and specific to say at the end just for that grandchild.
How did that experience impact your thinking as a doctor but also as a family member of the dying person?
I think nowadays, there is this opportunity – propensity perhaps? – for healthcare workers, always with good intentions, to overuse some powerful medications, opiates and the like, to eliminate the possibility of suffering. I’ve seen it happen, with my mom especially; it was like, “Wait a minute, does she really need that dose right now? Is she uncomfortable?” There is an element of fear to death. Naturally, we want to avoid suffering at the end of life. But we should also want them to share this sacred time with loved ones, to reconcile with others, to be able to prepare the soul for death. With my dad and my mom, I saw what a beautiful, holy death can look like — I just would have hated for them to miss that.