Through discussion and comparison of programs throughout the country, it has become clear that there are two distinct but both very important roles of the CMSA: (1) to help students grow in faith in the medical school community and (2) to help students apply that faith in the medical community.
Our experience has been that Med 1s and Med 2s are looking for a faithful community in which they can find refuge from the stress and anxiety of the pre-clinical years. They benefit from Bible studies, a friendly face to attend Mass with, and simple service projects.
Med 3s and Med 4s have a less predictable schedule. They can no longer commit to a weekly faith-building community. They are beginning to view themselves as future physicians and looking for guidance on how to merge their Catholic faith with the practice of medicine. These students benefit from meetings with local physicians and discussions about ethical issues.
The ideal program would help pre-clinical students to grow in faith so that as clinical students they are passionate about living out that faith and coming back to support the community. Below are ideas that have been tried throughout the country in order to meet these goals. Use what you can with your group. Remember: start with something manageable and continue to grow each year thereafter.
The tradition of the White Mass in the United States finds its origins in the development of the national Catholic Medical Association in the early 1930s. From its inception, the medical profession has been understood as a healing profession, a way in which Christ’s work continues upon the earth. Moreover, since the apparitions at Lourdes in the late 19th century, there has been renewed appreciation for the plight of the infirmed–and those who care for them–as well as renewed interest in the mysteries of Christ’s own life.
The White Mass, so named by the color worn by those in the healing profession of medicine, gathers health-care professionals under the patronage of St. Luke to ask God’s blessing upon the patient doctor, nurse, and caregiver alike. The White Mass is typically held in mid-October near the feast day of St. Luke, the beloved physician. Other options can include near September 26, the feast day of Sts. Cosmos and Damian, or April 28, the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Since the White Mass is typically a diocesan-wide event, you will need to coordinate a date with the Bishop or Archbishop. If there is a local physicians’ guild, they likely already host a White Mass each year.
When advertising, make sure to advertise both within your school and within the community. Contact the diocesan office to find out how you can get the event listed in local bulletins. If you know Catholic doctors, send them personal invitations. See Appendix G for other useful White Mass resources as you plan the liturgy.
Many medical schools seem to set aside time for presentations over the noon hour. Find a source of funding to offer lunch, and you should be able to draw a nice crowd. Topics that have been presented at other schools include:
- Making Moral Decisions
- Values and First Look at Abortion
- Principles of Medical Ethics
- Ordinary/Extraordinary Means
- Ritual of Anointing
- Creation & Evolution
- Where Is God in All Of This?
- Afterlife: Modern Preconceptions & Church Teachings
- Afterlife: Toward a Systematic Integration
- What Is Morality?
- The Christian Virtues in Medical Practice
- Original Sin
- The Three Levels of Scripture
- Neonatal Death & the Family
- Medical Mission Trips
- Canon Law 101
- Reproductive Technology
- Life, Liberty and the Defense Of Dignity
- The Challenge for Bioethics
- The Pastoral Side of Healing
- Job – Suffering and Lament
- How Our Spirituality Punctuates Our Work
- The Culture of Hope
- Deaconate Program
- The Passion of Jesus in Scripture & Catholic Piety
- Coming Up For Air: Spiritual Survival in a Crazy World
- The Healer’s Calling
- Respect For Life: Challenges & Limitations
- Gerontologic Spirituality
- Ethics Committee
- Theology of the Body
- Truth Telling
- Pathophysiology of Death by Crucifixion
- Catholic Teaching on Artificial Nutrition/Hydration in PVS
- Crisis Pregnancy Counseling
Many students were actively involved in Bible Study as undergrads and are looking to continue as medical students. Topics might include a book of the Bible, “A Physician’s Love” (see Appendix H) or “Christ, the Great Physician” (see Appendix I). Many groups have found Bible Study to be most effective if meeting in someone’s home away from the medical school.
Natural Family Planning Workshop
We were shocked to be invited by other groups (including Medical Students For Choice) at our medical school to co-sponsor a natural family planning workshop. We invited local NFP teachers and medical consultants to come speak to us about what NFP is, the training they went through, the instruction they give women, and the possible medical applications. It was encouraging to see our classmates genuinely interested in this topic that we covered only briefly during our standard curriculum.
Everyone likes the chance to serve others. This may be medical, like doing free blood pressure screenings at an underserved church or volunteering at an underserved clinic. Other ideas include serving a meal together at a homeless shelter, making fleece baby blankets for abused children (see http://www.projectlinus.org), or shopping together to fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child (see http://www.samaritanspurse.org/OCC).
Forty Days For Life
The 40 Days for Life is a community-based campaign that draws attention to the evil of abortion through the use of a three-point program: (1) prayer and fasting, (2) constant vigil, and (3) community outreach. 40 Days for Life takes a determined, peaceful approach to showing local communities the consequences of abortion in their own neighborhoods, for their own friends and families. It puts into action a desire to cooperate with God in the carrying out of His plan for the end of abortion in America. The 40-day campaign tracks Biblical history, where God used 40-day periods to transform individuals, communities … and the entire world. From Noah in the flood to Moses on the mountain to the disciples after Christ’s resurrection, it is clear that God sees the transformative value of His people accepting and meeting a 40-day challenge. Many students have never spent time praying in front of an abortion clinic and will be greatly moved by this experience. The national campaign is typically held late September- early November. To find out if your community is participating, check www.40daysforlife.org.
Don’t take yourself too seriously! Whether it is spending an evening mini golfing, a potluck after Mass, or a trip to the zoo, remember to find time for your members to just enjoy being together.
If there is a nice park or place to go walking in your area, invite individuals to come on a prayer walk. You may choose to pray the rosary as you walk or just engage in silent prayer with your creator. Groups who have done this have found it to be a very meaningful experience.
It’s hard to get people to give up studying for an entire weekend, but no one ever regrets it! This can be an excellent opportunity for ecumenism and to combine with the Christian Medical Association to draw a bigger crowd. One group commented how blessed they were that the Dean of Students at their medical school invited them over to his cabin on a lake for an entire weekend. Make sure to plan a balance of group prayer, individual quiet time, and relaxing activities. For some ideas for themes, see the appendices J and K (“My But’s Too Big!” and “Gifted”).
Catholic Medical Association Annual Conference
An unparalleled opportunity to hear outstanding speakers and join in prayer with physicians across the country! The CMA has been eager to increase the number of students at this conference and offers scholarships for the majority of the conference fee. Then during the conference they offer special break-out sessions for medical student participants. More information is available on the CMA website’s Events page.
Ministry to Classmates
Who better to serve than those you see everyday? Pray regularly for your classmates and your school. Consider supplying bagels and treats for your classmates after a busy day of exams (many places will donate their day-old bagels to your cause!). When someone has a baby, how wonderful would it be to receive flowers from the CMSA? Some have also found that upperclassmen can provide a valuable resource by providing Q&A sessions about how to be successful on the wards, how to prepare for boards, etc.
Pre-anatomy Prayer Service
For many anatomy lab is a very emotional experience. Remember, that body you are dissecting used to have a human soul! See Appendix M for a simple prayer service one school used to center themselves before beginning this course.