A Tribute to Health Care Workers May 18 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

If you have seen Mike Rowe’s TV show “Dirty Jobs,” you have seen some of the unusually grimy, messy, difficult jobs of life that most of us have never experienced (and would not really want to). In reality, there are many jobs that are difficult, and even the more routine jobs can be challenging because - let’s face it - they involve dealing with people.

Enter the health care industry. Having just had a short stint in the hospital, it was eye-opening for me to observe the mix of jobs, people, personalities and pressures that exist in that environment. This blog is an overall tribute to health care workers, who can teach us many lessons about serving others.

Being a health care worker is a really hard job, whether in clinics, hospitals, or assisted living facilities. Patients are not feeling well in the first place, and in the hospital environment, the pressures intensify with the situations that brought them there: accidents, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, physical attacks, and other life-threatening conditions. There are also things more routine, like recovery from major surgery or seeking to discover the source of their current pain. Each person comes in with his or her own medical issues, personality, family attachments (or lack thereof), and expectations of what should occur while they are there.

There are multiple people at different job levels that interact with the patients: doctors, administrators, nurses, assistants, social workers, phlebotomists, lab techs, etc. But people on the front lines of all this interaction are the floor nurses. Each day they come in to work and get briefed on the patients they will have for the day, absorbing all the elements that have converged to bring the patient to this particular nurses’ station. With a few breaks in between, nurses stay mostly on their feet, explaining to patients why this needle stick, that treatment, or a certain dietary restriction “is good for you,” answering questions, addressing complaints, dealing with the array of bodily fluids, responding to beeping monitors, etc. while at the same time briefing doctors/administrators and absorbing new instructions.

While we think of all the medical skills nurses must possess, the patient management skills are virtually as important, to be able to answer the many, many questions and concerns that are going through the minds of the patients and their family members. Then their 12 hours of daily (or nightly) nursing service come to an end by briefing the next shift on each patient’s status. And so the cycle continues. At least this is the way I observed it. Some of you nurses out there could explain this more accurately.

I was very impressed with the way nurses and the array of other medical personnel balance all of these pressures, at least on the outside. While our perceptions of health care worker responsiveness may vary across our own experiences, the great majority carry out their jobs in a highly professional manner. They also have limitations patients might not be able to understand or accept. 

It struck me that there is a lot of servanthood in being a health care worker: showing care when you probably don’t feel like it; helping people who think you are not doing good enough; doing messy, dirty things that a lot of others would never want to do; encouraging patients and family members who have received bad news; having demands placed in your lap every time you turn around. This is a tough job. But the health care worker/patient relationship is also a striking example of how servanthood can be vividly demonstrated.

To relate this to the Scriptures, let’s start with what Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-28:

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

If medical workers can practice these things because it is their job, how should we as believers, undeserving of God’s grace, not strive to follow Jesus’ own example in our daily routine of life.

While the need for serving others is quite apparent in the medical field from a sheer business perspective, perhaps we under-value its importance in everyday life. Jesus’ statement and example are meant to guide us no matter where we are: in our families, in our churches, in our schools and places of work. Having a servant-focused life can transform individuals, relationships, and societies. Servanthood often goes against our feelings and our inclinations as self-focused humans, but it is life-transforming when put into practice in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 5:21 through 6:9 presents a series of relationships where the principles of servanthood, submission, and love all apply: husbands/wives, parents/children, and employers/employees. These principles are all intertwined, and would apply to virtually any relationship we have. While it becomes harder when others don’t respond to or appreciate our efforts to serve them, we need to remember that they are not the ones for whom we do this. In fact, in that same passage Ephesians 6:7-8 explains “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” People may not notice or appreciate our efforts, but that’s OK. God does. Perhaps appreciation would make it easier, but that should not change our desire to serve, nor Whom we serve.

To me, some of the patients seemed particularly undeserving of the excellent treatment they were being given. Nevertheless, the workers did not speak back harshly when accused (and I saw some examples of that at the hospital); they patiently explained, when others were demanding, and they helped those who needed help, even when the workers might have thought that some patients didn’t deserve it. Pretty impressive, and a great example to us.

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Steve Smith