My testimony is quite an odd one, similar to my professional journey.
I came to believe in God on a medical mission trip in Honduras when I was about twenty-one years old. A staunch atheist at the time, I was interested in beefing up my medical school application. A local church donated thousands of dollars for my college group’s mission trip; I was stunned. I had never even attended church! Finally, I decided to start listening instead of fighting about whether or not there was a God.
It’s a long story, but ultimately I did accept Jesus as my savior amongst a lot of pain and distress I experienced at that time. I realized that the tests would cease, the money would be spent and the hours would be lost in a library. But what about my soul? What to do for that? I thought I had one. I just didn’t know what to do about it. I was completely empty on the inside. Soul-searching wasn’t something I could study. It wasn’t something I could “figure out.” What a relief. I was already an exhausted pre-med student. Terrified at first, I had other believers show me where to start.
Since then, I have completed multiple mission trips with my church. I will never forget what the mission leader told us: “The medicine will run out, the doctors will go away, but faith in God lasts forever.” It seemed so simple and basic to others, but to me, this was a revelation. My faith is the reason for my motivation in mentorship today. I believe that helping patients and other physicians is my true calling. I look forward to speaking with young people like myself who assume this enormous undertaking with a lack of direction or guidance. The students I mentor remind me where I came from.
One day, I won’t be here anymore. My patients won’t be around anymore. But through the lives of the young men and women who I speak to across New York, I have potential to inspire hundred-fold more lives by simply sharing my experience. This is what makes me excited to wake up every morning. We are physicians; we are role models in the community. We have a duty to serve all humankind in all ways. As a physician and a believer, this is what my faith-filled life continuously reinforces.
Remaining faithful through this crazy journey offers peace. My faith is an extra edge. My most important edge. I attribute my success to trusting in a power greater than myself to pull me through. I believe that God put a calling on my life so that He may see me through it. I still have many moments of doubt! I am full of fear and discouragement. Other times, I am full of utter self-destruction. Faith carries me through.
When hip-hop artist 50 Cent first started out, Oprah asked if he believed in God. He replied, “Yes. My grandmother taught me to either pray or worry, don’t do both.’” Faith carries you through all things. With man, many things are not possible. With God, truly everything is.
Being a physician is one of the most rigorous and arduous human experiences there is. Second only to military soldiers, we are constantly under fire. We are thrown into extremely tragic, challenging, competitive situations. We are told that the standards are high and the odds are slim. We are brainwashed into believing that we aren’t smart enough, sharp enough. The world and its illusions are quite convincing. We look at a pill bottle and see results immediately. We subsequently come to believe that pills are the answer. However, there have been more instances where my faith has served me in connecting with my patients than any prescription ever could.
I leave you with this story:
A man was dying suddenly, imminently and tragically before me and his family in the MICU one beautiful morning of my intern year. I explained that he was actively dying due to fulminant strongyloides, a disseminated parasitic infection that was misdiagnosed for months by several specialists repeatedly.
His family stood there horrified. I watched as he began to lose consciousness, and I wanted to cry too. I couldn’t. I needed to be strong. I was his physician, not his friend. Right? With no more treatment left, I stood there and watched them say goodbye. They asked if they could pray. I encouraged them to do so. They asked me to join their prayer circle. I did. This man’s son began to pray with passion and fervor. I began shaking. I felt light on my feet. I thought I was going to faint. I closed my eyes and offered my presence. This man’s son began to pray for me. Expecting to hear his son pray that his father may be saved or that they may witness a miracle, I instead began to hear him pray for my hands, that they may be strong for their tasks in taking care of others who will survive. For my head, that it may remain clear for patients who will survive. For my well-being so that I may continue to take care of those who have time left on earth. He did not pray for a miraculous recovery. Neither did he pray that his father may go to heaven. This family’s faith was strong. They knew that heaven was exactly where his father was going. Their faith carried them through. I want that kind of faith.
That was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Faith transcends all boundaries. Although the pre-med checklist is important, always pray. God is first, then you, then everything else. Anything in your life must understand that it will always come third. Only those who understand this are those that you should keep around.
May peace be with you always.
Marissa Lombardo is an internal medicine resident.
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