April 21, 2010

God's Call to the Country

Twenty-five years ago James (Jay) A. Miller, M.D., Loma Linda University School of Medicine class of 1982, chose to forgo the attractions of big-city life and set up a family medical practice in rural Kentucky—a decision he’s never regretted. This is his story.—Editors
2010 1512 page19 cap settled in rural Stanford, Kentucky, in 1985 after finishing medical school and a residency at Hinsdale Hospital in Illinois. I set up a family practice in the midst of several counties where there was no obstetric provider and fewer than a dozen Adventists. It was a place where my skills were in demand, and I believed I was following God’s leading by ministering to the medical needs of those living in this region of the Appalachia.
Physicians have unique opportunities to help people see God’s love when we care for them the way the Lord cares for us. Being taught to practice medicine by physicians and teachers whose lives are controlled by the love of God sets LLUSM apart from other medical schools. Learning of that love in the classroom and seeing it demonstrated at patients’ bedsides deeply influenced my own life and medical practice.
Opportunities for Growth and Outreach
In 1985 I opened the first birthing center in Kentucky. Then in 2008, after many years of brainstorming and planning, I worked with other local health-care professionals and community leaders to open a new hospital in Stanford called Ephraim McDowell Fort Logan Hospital, in which I designed the nation’s first birthing spa. To provide the mothers with both physical and emotional care, each birthing room in the facility has whirlpool tubs, deluxe showers, massage chairs, and a garden patio.
2010 1512 page19Throughout the years of my practice I’ve had the privilege of delivering some 3,000 babies and have cared for thousands of patients. But I’ve also experienced numerous opportunities to minister to people spiritually. For most of my 25 years in Kentucky I’ve preached one to two times each month and taught weekly Sabbath school classes. Two other Adventist physicians have now located to our small town. A new church was organized this past summer, with 35 to 40 people attending. My main ministry, however, is working one-on-one with hurting people and sharing God’s love with them.
More Than Physical Needs
One weekend while on call I cared for a young man in his early 20s who was dying of incurable colon cancer. It was Mother’s Day. His primary physician had told me of his condition and of his very attentive mother. After hospital rounds, I made a quick trip to a store to buy a Mother’s Day card for him to give to his mom. I wrote a brief note to her on his behalf as he was too weak to do it, but he did his best to scratch out his name. I left the card at his bedside for his mother to find later that day.
I never saw that young man again. He died of his cancer a short time afterward. Years later I met his mother for the first time. She reminded me of that card, which I had long before forgotten. She shared how much it meant to her during her years of grieving.
One time a patient came to me complaining of anxiety and being unable to sleep. I knew her well, because I had delivered her children. She had just discovered that in the past her husband had had an affair. She was devastated. In a busy practice it was tempting to write a quick script for a sleeping pill and move to the next patient. Instead, I wrote her out a script with some Bible verses that help us deal with pain and adversity. I talked to her about how God cares for us during the dark times, and how to be thankful for God’s faithfulness instead of focusing on her husband’s unfaithfulness. When we do that, God’s peace will guard our hearts—then we can sleep. The best prescriptions aren’t necessarily for medication.
Countless opportunities such as these to witness for God present themselves to physicians every day, and we shouldn’t let them pass us by.
God So Loved
One Sabbath recently a couple came to the birthing spa because the woman was in labor. The expecting couple’s baby had Trisomy 13—a severe chromosome defect. Babies with this condition usually die shortly before or after birth. Sadly, this couple’s baby died sometime after the woman’s prenatal visit the previous day. I had returned to the hospital that Sabbath after teaching a Bible study class at church about how to face trials in life. I shared thoughts from this study with them while we waited for their precious baby to be born.
God lost His own Son to death, so He understands the pain that couple was feeling. They could now understand more fully than those who have never lost a child the depth of God’s love for us.
The baby delivered. Tears flowed. And as I watched the parents tenderly cradle their lifeless infant, I was reminded of the comforting words in John 3:16 that flowed from the mouth of the Great Physician—“God so loved.”
James (Jay) A. Miller, LLU class of 1982, has been ministering to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of Kentucky residents for 25 years. He’s been married to his wife, Andrea, for 31 years. The couple has three grown children.