The Medical Student and Resident Boot Camp:
My Favorite Classroom, Retreat, Training Ground, and Family Reunion All in One
Reflecting on my second Medical Student and Resident Boot Camp is a uniquely different exercise from reflecting on my first Boot Camp experience a few years ago.
When I attended Boot Camp in 2019, I had not yet begun medical school. I was fresh off of a two-year term of service as a FOCUS missionary, and, admittedly, one of my main motivations in attending Boot Camp was to explore whether the life of faith I had developed in FOCUS was compatible with the practice of medicine. Additionally, while I was zealous to collect as much bioethics and apologetics content as possible throughout the week, I was naïve as to how exactly I would utilize this information during medical school.
Regardless, this first Boot Camp experience was remarkably fruitful! I made friends who have been some of my richest fonts of spiritual encouragement for the last three years. I was connected with mentors who have supported me in ventures of both medicine and vocational discernment. And, most helpfully to me, I was steeped in the stories of Catholic physicians who acknowledge the importance of both body and soul. Through these witnesses, I developed an abiding conviction that God is in the business of delivering mercy through Catholic physicians.
Now, two years into medical school, I recognize that this conviction continues to serve as an indispensable lifeline onto which I can cling in moments of doubt in the world of secular medicine. When I fear the consequences of addressing a patient’s spiritual wounds in the exam room, I remember Dr. Ruppersburger’s story about helping bring to light a patient’s past abortion. The healing, relief, and freedom she found in his care was palpable through his recollection of the office visit. When confronted with classmates’ angry outbursts about the “injustices of pro-life medicine,” I remember the simple and commonsensical tone used by physicians such as Dr. Nolte and Dr. Hruz to illuminate the Catholic stance on hot-button issues. Without undue emotion and clamor, the Boot Camp faculty appeal to both medical science and a correct anthropology of the human person. The result is a type of lecture that is entirely more fulfilling and comprehensive than any lecture from our respective medical schools — even our nominally Catholic ones!
The CMA Boot Camp is filling an urgent need for American medical students to be formed in care of the entire human person — body and soul. Shockingly, most medical students today do not learn how to apply basic bioethical principles to the care of vulnerable human beings. And if students do receive some brief bioethics exposure in medical school, it is certainly not done in light of the faith and morals of the Catholic Church. This is significant because the practice of medicine really does set the “boundaries” for our nation to understand the nature and purpose of the human body. Furthermore, as I was recently reminded in a talk by Bishop Robert Barron, the Truth of the Catholic Church is the last agent capable of reversing the destructive plagues of secularism and individualism in our country! Through the CMA Boot Camp, medical students are being formed and inspired to step into this crucial vocation.
Boot Camp has been a life-changing classroom, retreat, training ground, and family reunion for me during medical school. I am intensely grateful to the donors who make the Boot Camp experience possible for us all, and I am excited to watch the Holy Spirit reveal the specific specialties and practices into which He is calling each of us attendees. I am encouraged that, wherever we end up, we all have the lessons, stories, and encounters from our time at Boot Camp to fuel and inspire our work as future physicians.
Maggie Hartman is an OMS-III in Indianapolis, Indiana who serves as the Chair for the Catholic Medical Association Student Section.