Nashville’s Catholic Medical Association chapter has become a model for the nation

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James Bathon, a medical student and leader of the Nashville Guild’s student section The Society of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, recently received the Catholic Medical Association’s National Guide Award on behalf of the Nashville chapter. It is the second time that the Nashville chapter has received the award. Submitted photo

The local chapter of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) has been celebrating its recent award as a leader in mentoring medical students and helping them become strong spiritually engaged physicians. 

In early September, hundreds of representatives from across the country gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, for the annual meeting of the CMA. To the surprise of local attendees, the Nashville chapter was awarded this year’s National Guide Award. Medical student James Bathon, leader of the Nashville Guild’s student section, The Society of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, accepted the award on behalf of the guild. 

Dr. E. Wesley Ely, a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, is a medical professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and president of the chapter. While he was in attendance to deliver a keynote address about end-of-life care and faith in the context of critical care, he said he had no idea that his guild was about to win this year’s award, marking the second time the Nashville chapter has received it. 

“We received the award because we established a template when COVID hit. Our goal as healthcare professionals is to help any professional in medicine discern her or his role using our faith, science, and Christian humanism,” Dr. Ely explained. “This guild has been growing due to increased social demands, and our national organization and local guild in Tennessee have both helped many people grow from physicians-who-are-Catholic into Catholic physicians, and there is a big difference. 

“We have so many good events locally and the CMA wants to help others emulate those events around the country.”  

The local CMA chapter has grown into a valuable resource for Catholic medical students over the past decade, allowing students of  Meharry, Vanderbilt, Belmont, and Lipscomb Universities work directly with tenured professionals, attend conferences, host events, ask questions, and address issues affecting the medical field. These relationships help model approaches that allow young physicians to help discern their paths. 

As the national body’s award suggests, the Nashville chapter’s work has become a strong template for bringing up young people in the faith and medicine hand-in-hand. The Nashville chapter hosts regular events throughout the year, including a spring panel event where doctors and students choose a challenging topic, such as care of the homeless, euthanasia, or what it means to be a Catholic physician, and discuss it in front of an audience. 

“Medical students love to organize these events so that they can meet people, exchange information, and have ongoing dialogue about challenging clinical topics,” Dr. Ely explained. “It is an active and engaging mentorship program, which we view as an important part of our role as doctors with decades of experience.  

“Students tell us they view this as an important part of their formation as physicians because they don’t get taught these things in the medical school classroom,” he continued. “It’s recognizing that science alone will never be enough as a healer. They say it helps them figure out what field they’re going into and how to bring their Catholicism with them as a means of respecting the whole person.”  

The group held its most recent major event, the Hippocratic Oath Banquet, on Saturday, Sept. 30. The event included a prayer service at the Cathedral and was followed by a talk on bioethics and defense of conscience by Dr. Ashley Fernandes, a professor with the Ohio State University College of Medicine. The students who were able to attend the banquet said that the conversations were affirming and reinvigorating, helping to integrate their faith with their medical training. 

“I think the way Dr. Fernandes spoke about assimilation of the faith with practice was really helpful for us and helped give us courage to stand up for our beliefs as we continue in medicine,” said Alli Wyman, a fourth year medical student at Vanderbilt. “I loved that we got equally useful talks that hit on different ways in which faith comes up in practice.” 

Dr. Nadia Sutton, a cardiologist at Vanderbilt Hospital, also recently spoke to the CMA to discuss her conversion to Catholicism and how it plays an active role in her job. She was trained at Loyola University in Chicago, a Catholic school, which ingrained many core Church beliefs into her training, but she said she did not learn about CMA until moving to Nashville. 

“I only recently moved to the area and am happy to provide mentoring for medical students, since there generally isn’t enough spiritual guidance in the [secular] curriculum for medical students themselves,” Dr. Sutton said. 

“Medical school can be a stressful and challenging time, both in terms of learning the content and navigating our complex healthcare system,” she added. “For medical schools where spiritual development may not be immediately accessible or integrated into the curriculum, it is important to ensure that we are supporting the faith development of the medical students who will learn, teach, and work in healthcare.” 

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