Faith and Science Intersect at Physician's Popular Blog

Colin T. Son


January 06, 2009

Here's the reality: Science and religion don't always get along. Yet the interface between these 2 things that are so key to defining humanity -- our drive to understand our natural environment and our faith -- can be a fascinating place. In fact, that interface might be most prominent in the practice of medicine.

It is interesting that the majority of natural scientists describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. In sharp contrast, American physicians are as faithful as the general public. There are many ways to explain such a finding, but perhaps the application of science in pursuit of caring for patients is simply a unique thing.

As with many other physicians, Dr. Edwin Leap's faith is important to him. He talks openly about how his faith influences his practice of medicine on his blog. Considering his faith's prominence in his writing, I asked Dr. Leap why religion seems to be such a large and important part of American medicine.

Colin Son: Why do you think physicians, as a group, are so religious?

Dr. Leap: That's a great question. I think a couple of factors are at work.

First, and superficially, those individuals who desire a career in a difficult, helping profession are often those whose worldviews are strongly influenced by faith. For example, my father is a United Methodist pastor. I was raised in faith. I've met many physicians from similar situations. They often feel that they practice out of a sense of calling from God to minister to the physical and psychological needs of others. They may not even practice a very organized kind of religion. But their beliefs are still informed by the very orthodox idea that everyone has ultimate, and equal, worth in the eyes of God.

Second, we "practice" in a laboratory of suffering. We see the pain and tears, the blood and misery, the birth and death that are universal. We see humans as amazing and also horrible. In my estimation, the situation in which we find ourselves confirms our faith.

Third, we see our failures and hope for more. We see grief and want to believe that it will be consoled. We are horribly inadequate and need God to make us wise, discerning, compassionate, good. I've prayed a lot of endotracheal tubes and central lines into place!

Edwin Leap, MD, hosts Grand Rounds
January 6, 2009

Colin Son: Being an emergency room physician and seeing humanity at its lowest must test your faith at times.

Dr. Leap: It's hard to hear a screaming mother hovering over her dead child's body and not ask "Why?"' It's hard to have the love of Christ for others who not only ignore their own well-being but are cruel and thankless. It's frustrating. And yet...

The struggle is glorious! As a Christian, I have learned that even the worst, most profane, abusive, violent patient I see is loved by God exactly as much as I am. Not one bit more or less. That's an amazing revelation! Because it liberates me from judgment; not from discernment, mind you. I mean, they're sometimes evil, and they're still sometimes stupid. Like me. But they're loved. Just like me! And God desires their repentance, seeing them for what they were meant to be, not what they are. Working with some of the worst of the worst makes me, in the end, a vastly more realistic Christian.

Colin Son: You seem to have seamlessly interwoven your faith with discussions of the practice of medicine. Are there specific things you're looking to accomplish each time you sit down to write?

Dr. Leap: What do I want to accomplish? Truth, candor, hope, love.

I've always tried to put honesty in my columns in Emergency Medicine News and in the newspaper where I'm published. But I try, each time, to give some lesson, message, some offer of grace or worth, some comfort or wink of the eye that says, "I understand... we're all in this together and you aren't alone!" I hope, and pray, that when I write I give something of God away...even if it's a loud laugh at human error and craziness. All of that is holy, in my estimation.

I like to write about a lot of things, especially my family, my patients, our dogs, and the list goes on. But I like to weave faith into much of what I write. Not because it's really intentional, but because it's what I love. We write about what we love, and we try to convey it to others so that maybe they'll love it too, or at least understand it better.

Colin Son: Your blog was recently nominated for "Best Medical Weblog" in Medgadget's annual awards. No small honor, so congratulations.

Dr. Leap: This is the culmination of a big year for me, since I won a Gold Medal for my column in Emergency Medicine News from the American Society of Healthcare Publications Editors.

But who am I? I'm new to blogging, relatively speaking. I know so little. Technologically speaking, I just left the Iron Age. My blog doesn't offer many bells or whistles, and I haven't linked nearly enough between writing, working, and home life. But I try to tell the truth, with kindness, with humor, and with hope. I like to think that's valuable.

Dr. Leap is described as a "husband, father, physician, writer" on his blog. This week he's also host to the first 2009 edition of Grand Rounds. Grand Rounds features the weekly best posts form bloggers interested in healthcare. It regularly includes works from patients, physicians, nurses, students, and others.