Medical Student and Resident Boot Camp:
Where the Truth of Christ is Proclaimed

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’”
(Luke 24:32)

As I came to the end of the Catholic Medical Association’s Boot Camp, this verse from the Gospel of Luke came to mind. At various points throughout the week, I had felt my heart burning within me. Whether the topic was personal prayer, fertility awareness, or bioethics, I knew what was being spoken was true, and I wanted to build my life and my practice of medicine on this foundation.

As a recent medical school graduate and incoming intern, I came to Boot Camp because I desired to further my formation as I prepared for the next stage of my training. I had high expectations for the week based on the testimony of friends and colleagues who have attended in the past. This experience delivered on these hopes and more, providing an incredible week of spiritual formation, education, and fellowship.

The first full day, dedicated entirely to prayer, poignantly reminded us that as Catholic medical students and residents, prayer must be the foundation of our lives and work. Spending a whole day deepening our prayer absolutely set the tone for the week, especially with so many complicated ethical issues to be discussed. Through these presentations, I learned that prayer is not a technique, but an exchange of persons, and by imitating the prayer of Christ to the Father, we are drawn up into the mystery of the Trinity and are transformed to live our vocation. Each day of Boot Camp started with morning prayer and Mass, inviting the Holy Spirit into our learning and community throughout the week.

In addition to spiritual formation, the Boot Camp increased my understanding of difficult bioethical issues. We did not hesitate to engage with these issues from a Catholic perspective, and my knowledge of topics like artificial reproductive technologies and ectopic pregnancy management was deepened.

Perhaps most crucially, boot camp provided fellowship with both peers and instructors. We had edifying conversations throughout the day, especially at evening social hours. It was so refreshing to build friendships with people who have been where I’ve been and are going where I’m going. Each evening, it was also fantastic to pick the brains of our teachers, who included priests, lawyers, ethicists, and physicians.

One particular physician modeled the integration of faith and medicine. Dr. William Toffler, a family physician from Oregon, has been an outspoken advocate for the sanctity of human life against physician-assisted suicide. This is set against the backdrop of his own life experiences.

About eight years ago, Dr. Toffler’s wife, Marlene, died after a battle with cancer. He and his family chose to honor and value her life by walking through her final days with her, providing her comfort and companionship. Tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke about her. I had the sense that these were tears not simply of grief, but of a profound love for his wife. He stressed that Marlene was not a burden on the family, but caring for her was actually a source of great joy and intimacy as she reached the final days of her life on earth.

With this in mind, Dr. Toffler explained how he counsels patients who are considering ending their own life, doing so with charity and tenderness that many would associate with the love we have for a family member. Dr. Toffler’s story inspired me to incorporate my experiences and my faith into the practice of medicine. It is only when these two worlds of private and professional collide that we can truly love our patients.

CMA Boot Camp was an incredibly formative week for me. I am so grateful for the spiritual formation, education from an authentically Catholic perspective, and fellowship with peers and role models that it provided. Ultimately, my heart was burning within me because I was hearing the truth of Christ proclaimed. This week of Boot Camp will help me to boldly integrate my career and my convictions, and to imitate Jesus in the field of medicine.

Joseph Rall is a first-year resident in family medicine at the University Hospitals St. John Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.