This month, March 2018, marks the fourth anniversary of Medicine and Faith. As this anniversary has approached I have been reviewing what we have accomplished so far and have been considering goals and priorities for the future.
How do you measure success in a project like this? The ultimate goal of the site is to promote understanding of the Lord and his church, in the context of a discussion about medicine and health. I want to serve the Lord by writing things which are true, and which help people to understand and grow closer to him. I wish to clearly explain what I believe, why I believe it, and how that belief influences my life and my work as a doctor. To the extent that I have done this, I can claim success. And when I review the last four years I am still pleased with the substance of what I have written when measured against that purpose. But quite honestly, success at this primary purpose is a little hard to measure, and I have contented myself with getting only occasional glimpses at it.
Choosing favorite posts is hard, but here are the ones which have made the biggest impact with our readers over the past four years:
This was an early post, and was the first one that I thought really hit a sweet spot at the interface of religion and medicine. The story describes how my faith and covenants with God help me to be a better doctor. One reader wrote, “We used this in our Family Home Evening lesson last night on keeping baptismal covenants. It was very timely!”
I recently revisited this post, rewriting it for submission to the Ensign magazine. My writing skills have improved over the past 4 years, and I found a lot of things I wanted to say differently in the revision. When I am finished I will post it here. (Update: here it is.)
Doctor’s Orders… and Nursing Hands
Two guest posts by my friend Sandra Garofalo, RN, were both very well-received. I have invited other friends to write guest posts, but so far Sandra is the only one who has taken me up on the offer. If you would like to be a guest writer, please contact me.
The Book of Mormon – Alternate Chronology
This is a reading chart that I made, following the Book of Mormon subplots in a different order. Reading the book in this way brings a few details to focus which are often glossed over when reading the book sequentially.
This post is like the slow and steady tortoise destined to win the race. It is not (yet) the most-viewed post on the site, but it is the one with the most persistent traffic. Only 17% of its views to date were during its first year (by comparison, most posts have 80% of their total views within the first month), and if the current levels of traffic persist for a few months then 2018 will easily surpass all of the previous years. Ironically, it is also the post which is least relevant to medicine or health.
Where is the Pavilion?
This is a story about my aunt who died of cancer when she was a teenager. It is mainly a harmony of two different accounts written by my grandparents, with supplemental material from other interviews with family members.
The central conflict in the story actually plays out within the soul of my grandfather, as he struggles with questions of faith and eventually comes to accept the Lord’s will. As one reader observed, “Thank you for writing about this episode and your thoughts. It makes me think. I’ve often wondered about the Lord’s promise to save us and yet, it’s not a promise to save us from mortal death and suffering. It’s bigger and beyond that. When we are faced with suffering and death, we desperately want to be saved from them. Yet, we are eternal beings with a trajectory well beyond our current circumstances. We have a Savior who saves us from the effects of our sins, mistakes, disasters, and ultimate mortal death. You remind me not to take things for granted.”
A Disease With Perks
A review of an amazing blog written by my neighbor Christie Perkins, who writes about her experience with having cancer, and also some musings about how cancer can be used as a gospel analogy. As of this writing it is my most viewed and most shared post.
Burning Out and Back Again
Over the past four years my thinking has evolved on the subject of occupational burnout. Compare this post to the stoic martyrdom of We Signed Up For This to see what I mean. This was my first useful post on the topic, exploring it from a scriptural perspective.
Memories of a Mentor
A memoir about John M. Stang, MD, a medical school instructor who impacted my life in a positive way, but his life ended tragically. This post led to the creation of a memorial scholarship fund in Dr. Stang’s honor, and this in turn has helped some of his former students to heal and find closure.
I was given a copy of one of Dr. Stang’s last emails, sent out to his beloved students just before he left the university. Near the end of his email is this tragic line: “You remember; help me preserve at least a small portion of whatever legacy remains.” The former student who shared this email was involved in the effort to gather pledges for the scholarship fund, and after we had gathered enough pledges to move forward with creating the fund he wrote, “Due to the combined efforts in a mutual cause, I am closer to closure. When the memorial award is endowed I will feel even better. I will always regret being unable to attend his services and I am happy to help the eternal flame of his memory burn.”
Medical Education Memoir
This is a six-part series about my medical education, starting with the decision to become a doctor, and following all the way through the process of undergraduate studies, medical school, and residency. The final post in the series provides some thoughts and advice about the transition from training into practice. Here is a sampling of the reader comments on this series:
“I really appreciate the honesty and sincerity in your writing.”
“Loved it! I never heard the full story of how you and your wife met. So sweet!!”
“Wow, this is quite a story. Every one of us who sought an advanced degree can offer a similar story.”
“You are writing a great testimony of your life, your understanding of our Lord and His awesome power”
“Alan – I have been enjoying reading your It Becomes You series. Thanks so much for the kind words. It is an honor and privilege to help students along in their calling to medicine.”
“I just love your story! I think you could make this into a book. I have laughed so many times while reading.”
“Loving the story of your journey. There were many times I had wished that I had studied for the long term and not just to get through the next test. I think that attitude is what we need in all areas as we strive to gain intelligence in this life.”
“Alan reading your stories makes me realize that I couldn’t have asked for a better group of individuals to share and commiserate the trials and tribulations of neurology residency with.”
“Thanks for being so honest about your experience Alan. I look back and you always seemed to know everything. I never knew how you did it as I was overwhelmed with it all and I just was trying to take care of myself!”
“I’m still amazed to hear stories like this for some reason. I thought I wouldn’t survive the first 3 months of internship and the first 3 or so neurology calls due to nerves. I thought I was the only person who felt like that, and it isn’t until later I found out everyone felt pretty much the same but looked like everything was cool. Maybe a few people felt fine, but I think that’s the exception.”
“I was one of the people in this community who needed you…having been unable to find answers to some distressing symptoms and having exhausted all local resources to find answers. I will never forget the time you spent with me in your clinic, pouring over my entire medical history and going over it with me piece by piece. Taking the time to go over my CT/MRI with me one part at a time to explain things. And above all, taking the time to talk to me like a human being and not just a name on paper. Although my particular issue has not been a simple fix, you said some things to me that helped to allay some of my biggest fears. You were kind and compassionate and went the extra mile to try to help me. This community is truly blessed to have you and your family here. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It is so interesting and rare to hear that perspective.”
Earlier this year I started sharing the posts on Twitter, hoping to reach a wider audience. You can also help by sharing posts that you like, or that you think will help people you know. But reaching a bigger audience is not, and cannot be, my ultimate goal. As I explained above, my primary purpose is a little hard to measure, and website traffic is only an indirect and very poor measurement of what I am really trying to accomplish. What I will avoid doing is anything which cheapens my purpose. Specifically, I will never add advertisements or other money-making schemes to this site. This work is not about me, and is not a veiled effort at self-promotion.
I am eager to hear your thoughts about what is working, and what you would like to hear more of, or less of. Please use the comments section below to give feedback, or use the Contact page to send me a private message.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently spoke at a jubilee celebration for Book of Mormon scholarship at Brigham Young University. My brother Mark Sanderson wrote an analysis of the poetic and structural devices used in his talk, which is how I first came to read it. At the close of his talk Elder Holland added this prayer and plea: “May our Father in Heaven bless us and an ever-larger cadre of young scholars around the Church to do more and more to discover and delineate and declare the reasons for the hope that is in us.” I see my work at this website as part of that effort he described.
So we will move forward, doing what we can to help people understand the faith that breathes so much hope and purpose into our lives. One post at a time, we will try to explain how this wonderful religion guides us in our efforts to serve and love others, and to approach God with greater faith. Thanks for coming along on the journey!