Minister and doctor relationships

J. David Newman interviews G. Gordon Hadley, M.D., director of the General Conference Department of Health and Temperance.

G. Gordon Hadley, M.D., director of the General Conference Department of Health and Temperance.



Newman: Would you please tell us some of your background, Dr. Hadley, and why you feel so strongly about the minister/doctor relationship.

Hadley: My feelings in regard to this relationship come from my own child hood. I grew up in the inner city of Washington, D.C., where my father, also a physician, worked almost his life time in inner-city work. He believed that his work was essentially no different from that of the ordained minister. He had a great respect for ministers. At Sabbath meals, which were essentially the only times our family ever ate together, Dad would never tolerate criticism of the preacher or the sermon. He was always protective. I learned in later years that he saw their faults but did not discuss them.

Newman: Did you receive your training at Loma Linda University?

  Hadley: I began my formal education in a public school but soon moved to the one-room church school on the lower level of the old Capital Memorial church. I then attended Shenandoah Valley Academy for four years, took my premedical courses at Washington Missionary College (now Columbia Union College), and completed my medical training at Loma Linda University.

Newman: I understand that you served in the mission field.

Hadley: My wife and I spent seven and a half years in India and Afghanistan.

Newman: From your work in the mission field and in the United States, what do you see as the relationship between physician and minister?

Hadley: Let me quote first from the Spirit of Prophecy: "God has given direction as to how the work is to be done. . . . It is the Lord's desire that the very best of medical missionary physicians shall hold themselves in readiness to cooperate with the ministers of the gospel. . . .

"No line is to be drawn between the genuine medical missionary work and the gospel ministry. These two must blend. They are not to stand apart as separate lines of work." "I want to tell you that when the gospel ministers and the medical missionary workers are not united, there is placed on our churches the worst evil that can be placed there" (Medical Ministry, pp. 250, 241).

Quite frankly, I think there is room for improvement. More is mentioned in the Spirit of Prophecy about medical work than any other type of work. Health-care workers need to know about spiritual matters, and all ministers should know something about the medical work. The idea is that both sides need to be involved in each other's work.

Newman: There was a time when the church emphasized this more. The seminary had a relationship with Loma Linda, and students could take some of their classes at Loma Linda and get an M.S.P.H. along with their M. Div. degree.

Hadley: But even that falls short of what I hope we could do. We conducted an experiment a number of years ago. Some medical students visited the seminary and dialogued with faculty and students. I went with the first of those groups. It was very interesting and pointed out the need for communication. These two groups are being schooled in two differ ent types of thinking, and it is good for them to lay things on the table and talk about their mutual needs and differ ences.

Newman: Now we are presupposing that there is a problem and that ministers and physicians are not working as closely together as they might. How do you think ministers and physicians should work together?

Hadley: First of all, I trust that when you mention physicians, we understand that this applies to all health professionals. We must constantly keep in mind that the purpose of medical work is saving souls for eternity. We are working for something much bigger than ourselves. As we train young people to be healthcare workers there is no place for medioc rity. They must receive the best training possible. They must be the best possible workers. But all of this is just a means to an end. That end is to follow in the steps of the Great Physician--to help people and make an impact on them for their eternal destiny. That is where we fall short. There are so many temptations along the way. We become preoccupied with the excellence of medicine, seeing it as a means of making a living. How ever, whether it is the individual dentist, nurse, physician, or technician or the institution, all have the same purpose. They are a means to a very important end.

Newman: Let's say that you are a physician in private practice and attend one of the churches in the Washington area. How would you work with the pastor as a team?

Hadley: First of all, I would be supportive of him or her. Second, there is a great need for health education in our church and in the community. For example, we could help conduct health programs on smoking, diet, weight control, and stress. We need to help our people (as well as the public) understand the Adventist lifestyle. Ministers and physi cians can work beautifully together. The Adventist lifestyle is a part of the message we are supposed to preach before the Sec ond Coming.

Newman: How far can a physician or other health professional go in inviting his or her patients to participate in these programs?

Hadley: That depends on the health professional and the rapport he or she has with those patients. We mustn't inflict our ideas on our patients just because they are coming to us for help. We must not interfere with their rights.

Newman: Would it be considered unethical for a physician to send a personal letter to each patient inviting him or her to a pro gram?

Hadley: I don't think so, no.

Newman: You said earlier that the work of health professionals is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. Would you elaborate on that some more?

Hadley: Yes. An important principle is given us by Ellen White: "The Saviour made each work of healing an occasion for implanting divine principles in the mind and soul. This was the purpose of His work. He imparted earthly blessings, that He might incline the hearts of men to receive the gospel of His grace" (The Ministry of Healing, p. 20). While we must never force our views on people, as Christians we have an extra responsibil ity that non-Christians do not have.

Newman: Are you saying that there is creative tension between the need to minister to physical needs and the need to minister to spiritual needs?

Hadley: Yes. Jesus helped people whether they responded spiritually or not. His heart was always full of compassion. As physicians we take care of people because they need help. In some we may never awaken inquiry. Jesus healed the 10 lepers because of their need, apparently without any idea that they would ever follow Him. And indeed only one ever came back to thank Him.

Newman: There are some churches in which the physicians have little relationship with the pastor. They do not feel comfortable inviting people to church. Why might this be so?

Hadley: I would like to think that these problems do not exist, but they do. Some of us feel that it would be nice for the seminary to teach more about the medical work and its relationship to gospel ministry. You would be surprised how many physicians feel they are not wanted. They often feel that pastors don't want their counsel, just their money.

Newman: Could part of the problem be feelings of inferiority on the part of the pastor?

Hadley: I hope not, but health professionals sometimes feel neglected. They need pastoral help too. I know one medical person who confided in me that with all the problems he had gone through, his pastor never bothered to visit him once. We don't want pastors to become amateur psychiatrists, but the pastor is a spir itual leader, and health professionals are human beings too. There are times when they hunger for a pastoral visit just like any other person. These tensions need not be.

My father was a very close friend with every minister at the church. Some of the ministers wanted to make house calls with him. They would talk a lot in the car. I don't know that they went into the homes of the patients very much, but they developed quite a rapport. My dad's closest friend was probably the pastor of the church. That is the way it ought to be. Whether small church or big church, there is a need for close friendships, for families to get together on Saturday nights.

Newman: Is there anything unique in the relationship between the minister and the physician that doesn't exist between the minister and the businessman or attorney?

Hadley: Yes. There are things that the minister and the physician would be more likely to do in common. And both are in the curative business one in the physical, the other in the spiritual. Their work is closely interrelated. We must practice a wholistic approach. There is a need to counsel together and work on things together.

Newman: Is part of the problem that health professionals tend to get trapped in the curative aspects of their jobs and neglect the preventive part?

Hadley: That is true--even the medical profession recognizes that it tends to be that way. We are so busy taking care of the routine pressing matters that we of ten don't do the more important things. It's back to the same old story that you can save more lives by using vaccinations, teaching proper diet for children, and seeing that there is a good water sup ply in the village than by performing all the surgerical procedures possible. The unsophisticated preventive measures are always the most important. For example, if people improve their lifestyle, few of them will have heart attacks.

Newman: Would it be helpful if sometime during each church year there was a special emphasis given concerning the relationship between health and the gospel? And what about some team ministry or team preaching, during the Sabbath services, involving the health professional and the pastor?

Hadley: That would be excellent. The Lord spent a great deal of time healing the sick. Ellen White wrote a large amount about medical work. We should also be giving it a strong emphasis.

Newman: Could the Sabbath school offer some classes in health ministry that the physician would have a part in?

Hadley: Yes, that's fine. I think, how ever, we would create less tension in the church if we took over part of the worship service rather than the Sabbath school. There is every reason for preaching the health message. It is surprising how ignorant many of our people are on what the Spirit of Prophecy says in this area.

Newman: Is part of the problem that today we tend to be specialists, and since the minister doesn't get much training in health and the physician doesn't get much training about his role in spiritual things, we. each go our own way?

Hadley: I hate to draw the comparison, but I think that there is a lot more education in spiritual things for physicians than there is education in health for ministers.

Newman: How much Bible does the health professional need to take at Loma Linda?

Hadley: We are quite specific on that. All schools require religion courses. In the medical school, for example, during the first two years it is mandatory that students take a number of courses; some are required and some are elective. Whether these people have been to the seminary or not, they are required to take these courses.

Newman: So they all take a religion class every quarter during their first two years, but they don't have to after the first two years?

Hadley: We try to integrate the religious instruction, after the first two years, with their clinical teaching, because we do not have the students together in one class. They are scattered in different hospitals, but we do integrate the teaching of spiritual things. And we have some very good instruction.

Newman: What about overseas? Are there tensions there that have developed between physicians and ministers?

Hadley: Yes, there are tensions, and some of them spring from a misunderstanding of the medical work. Physicians should be just as dedicated to their lifework as should be the ministers. In our mission work we are suffering because we don't have continuity of physicians. Physicians need to build up a practice; they can't move around as ministers do with out jeopardizing their practice and their responsibilities in the patient relation ship. We do have a serious recruiting problem.

I fear we do not support the medical work to the extent the Spirit of Prophecy indicates we should. Ellen White tells us that people who want to become medical missionaries should have a fund to help them. We once did have a school bill mission deferment plan, which was canceled some years ago, having run almost out of steam before it was canceled. An other program has been started, but it needs to be placed on an adequate and continuing basis. This is one problem in recruitment. People need to be able to commit themselves while in school and residency so that they are able to go as soon as they finish their training.

Another problem is that they hear about frustrations in the mission field and then talk to some who return because of these problems.

A third problem, even harder to ad dress, is the difficulty .of placing physicians once they do return from the mission field.

And it is very difficult to recruit mid-career physicians, because they are heavily committed financially and there is also the question of what they will be able to do after their mission service. If they leave their practice, there is nothing for them to come back to.

Newman: What are some solutions?

Hadley: First, the physician or dentist must have financial support for his or her professional education. We provide quite a bit of money from the church for persons sent to the seminary, but we have nothing comparable for the young person who goes into a health profession such as medicine or dentistry.

Some years ago, when physicians in our institutions were church-employed, two young people went to college together. One went into the ministry, and the other on to medical school. At retirement at 65 the physician was significantly behind financially, because of the cost of education and the lack of benefits and salary during preparation time.

Second, we must do something to help the health professionals feel that they are actually missionaries. A complaint of some is that they are so busy trying to make money--so much emphasis on money--that they are not even allowed to do missionary work. The happiest workers are the ones who are doing missionary work. Mrs. White points out that we cannot expect to run medical work without financial help, yet in many areas of the world the institutions are expected to be totally self-supporting. We can use tithe money for medical missionaries, but this is not being done in many parts of the world.

Third, medical personnel often feel left out of the decision-making process. With the heavy emphasis on finance, they have to spend most of their time providing services that will bring in in come.

Newman: Ellen White emphasized the closeness of the pastor/minister team and the duty of the church to recognize the missionary work of the physician by ordination. Is that still being practiced today?

Hadley: That is a concern. Very few physicians are being ordained. I know there are some who feel that nonministers should not be ordained, but we do ordain treasurers, academy teachers, and principals. It has been the observation of the medical personnel that very few, almost none, are being ordained certainly not in the home bases. It seems to me that the setting apart of physicians to the ministry is in order.

Newman: Are you saying it would be a good idea to set up some guidelines that would help an executive committee on the conference, union, or division level know when it is appropriate to ordain physicians? We have guidelines for ministers; why not for physicians?

Hadley: I don't know. I don't want to spend too much time on that, for it is not the basic issue. What is more important is that the health professionals feel they are part of the work. Some believe that since the time of J. H. Kellogg the church has been fearful of involving health professionals in the planning of the work. There are very few medical people who are health directors in unions, conferences, and divisions. And the number is declining. As of May 1987, for the first time to my knowledge, no physician was a director of health and temperance for any division. Some of the unions and conferences are dropping health directors, and what is even worse is that on administrative committees at the conference, union, division, and General Conference levels, health professionals are not involved in the inner planning and decision-making of the church. That is the problem.

Newman: So you are saying that it is not only important that physicians and pastors work closely together together but that physicians should also be closely involved at all levels of the church? And if the church wants the enthusiastic support of the medical personnel, they need to have those medical people involved in the administrative decision-making of the church?

Hadley: That summarizes it. That is where the biggest frustration is--that transcends many of the things we have discussed. Even in the local church it is the same thing. Again, we need to work together, and where physicians and pas tors work together, they feel interdependent; one doesn't like to make a decision that affects the other without consulting him or her. That is where the closest relationships develop.

Newman: Don't Adventists have a unique contribution to make in the linking of health and the gospel? Even organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church that run an extensive hospital system have no particular philosophy of health that ties their hospitals and ministry together.

Hadley: Yes! And isn't that part of the third angel's message as we understand it ? We are told again and again that medical missionary work is the right arm--it is to open the doors. We are just scratching the surface. I have reread those fundamental books of the Spirit of Prophecy since taking this job [director of the Department of Health and Temperance at world headquarters] mainly to listen to them. There are two things that came through so clearly to me: (1) the emphasis on our institutions, that we need them in the centers of the world, and (2) what is expected of the health professionals in those institutions, that they should be dedicated people who have the spirit of the Lord foremost in their minds. Our institutions are here for one purpose, and we are never to forget that purpose. They are to be here as beacon lights leading people to the gospel.

Newman: Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the pastors and health professionals who read this interview would sit down and discuss how they can work more closely together?

Hadley: Yes. And I think the future is bright. Medical missionary work has great potential as an important part of the global strategy being developed. There is no question that in those areas of the world where we have few believers, the medical work, health and temperance work, is the best means to awaken people's interest. It is only the arm, the opening--it is not the body. But it is to be used to its maximum potential, and will be the last work to close before the end. We must work together.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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G. Gordon Hadley, M.D., director of the General Conference Department of Health and Temperance.

December 1988

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