Catholic Medical Association’s Medical Student and Resident Boot Camp celebrates 10 years of impacting the lives of medical students and residents who through the years have described the experience as an oasis where they are rejuvenated in their Catholic faith and re-affirmed in their medical vocation.

“I would 10/10 recommend for others to attend Boot Camp,” said Michelle Brosnan, a recent medical school graduate from Georgetown University School of Medicine and first-time attendee. “Boot Camp helped me grow spiritually and connect with other Catholics in medicine. I really appreciated daily mass, and having opportunities to go to confession and Holy Hour. The physicians who spoke were very sincere about practicing medicine in agreement with the Church’s teachings, and many had faced hardship after choosing to follow their faith. I was inspired by the depth of the faith that I witnessed in those around me.”

The 2022 Boot Camp began with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the feast of Holy Trinity Sunday, June 12 and ended as it began on the feast of Corpus Christi Sunday, June 19 at the majestic Ave Maria Catholic Church in Ave Maria, Florida. Gathering together for the highest form of prayer set the tone for the 38 medical students and residents in attendance as they prepared to tackle important medical and bioethical issues while applying Catholic principles. Topics for the week included abortion and reproductive technology, gender identity, assisted suicide and euthanasia, the formation of women in medicine, and how virtues and medicine align. The Board of Directors and other CMA physician members checked in on Wednesday for the Leadership Training Meeting, and beginning Thursday night, the physicians, students, and residents attended the same talks and social time. The Leadership Training Meeting has been combined with Boot Camp since 2018 with great success.

The first Medical Student and Resident Boot Camp launched June 18-22, 2013, at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, as national student outreach became a top priority of the Board after several years of planning. This could not have been accomplished without the fundraising efforts at the preceding Annual Educational Conference, where the generosity of CMA members made it possible for medical students across the country to attend Boot Camp without having to worry about lodging, conference, or meal costs. Thirty-one medical students attended the first year, and to date 460 students and residents have participated. Boot Camp stayed in Philadelphia for the first five years, then moved to Mundelein Seminary in Chicago in 2018 in order to attract more students from around the nation. That year they were able to welcome 46 students to Boot Camp, and 57 students the year after that, before the pandemic took it virtual.

In attendance at that first Boot Camp was then-student section president Dr. Brian Bamberger, who was entering into his fourth year of medical school. His enthusiasm in recalling that first year is unmistakable.

“The classes — going over the essentials of medical ethics — were so well taught; I still have my notes from that experience in my home office,” he said, “but, what I remember most from the camp was the fellowship, camaraderie and witness.”

His favorite part? The interaction between students, faculty, and clergy.

“The planned socials were to conclude at 9 p.m. each night,” he said, “but often went longer as students learned from each other and formed close bonds.”

This first Boot Camp not only encouraged Dr. Bamberger, it also shaped his entire career. He attended the talk given by Dr. Anne Nolte, the director of the St. Gianna Center in New York City and vice president of the New York Metropolitan Guild of the CMA, who related her experience in residency as a non-prescriber of contraception.

“Inspired by Dr. Nolte’s witness, I disclosed to every program I interviewed with my intent to be a ‘non-prescriber.’ I was able to obtain the policy that her residency developed to give as a model to secular programs,” he explained.

It wasn’t easy — he even described the experience as “anxiety-inducing” — but in the end, he matched with the program that he continues to work for to this day and is the associate program director of residency, no less.

Dr. Natalie King, née Rodden, was the resident president during the first Boot Camp in 2013. She was instrumental in working with former CMA executive director Dr. John Brehany to put together the outline for the Boot Camp. She could not attend the first one, as she was experiencing the frantic schedule familiar to all medical residents, but was able to attend in subsequent years and found it to be an incredibly valuable experience.

She loved that Boot Camp “connects you with other students and trainees around the country who are fighting the good fight just like you.” She continued, “It’s so neat to also have personal time with great physicians who inspire and lead by example.”

Dr. John Lane, president during the first Boot Camp, is interested in seeing how the move this year to Ave Maria, Florida impacts its growth. He recalled the fundraising efforts that were put into that first Boot Camp and how far CMA has come since then. He has been encouraged by the energy and camaraderie that the students bring with them to each Boot Camp.

“These are the future leaders of CMA and our efforts to provide them with a solid foundation in bioethics and a greater understanding of the meaning of their vocation informed by their faith is priceless,” he explained.

Since the first Boot Camp, each of the 460 students has come away with his or her own unique story of the personal impact of this important gathering. Drs. Bamberger, King and Lane agree that the goal for the next ten years of the Medical Student and Resident Boot Camp should be finding ways to reach more students and residents.

“I hope Boot Camp continues to be an environment inspiring courage and fortitude, but most of all joy,” added Dr. King, emphasizing that the professional vocation of being a physician is a privilege and gift fostering that joy.

The importance of the relationship between CMA and medical students is hard to overstate. The past ten years of Boot Camp have significantly strengthened this relationship and stands to do so for years to come. Much of the Student Section leadership comes from former Boot Camp attendees.

“I think it speaks to the impact of the experience,” Dr. Bamberger said. “Students are profoundly impacted by the message and support; they want to give back and lead.”