• Elizabeth Bernhardt

Faith + Work :: Anna Shafer, Part 1

We are excited about our new series "Faith + Work", where we explore the intersection of faith and work, in the life of a Believer. We hope this series will encourage your faith, as you pursue loving Jesus in all areas of life.

For this, our very first "Faith + Work" blog post, you can sit in on a conversation our guest blogger, Elizabeth Bernhardt, has with her cousin, Anna Shafer. Anna is a healthcare worker, so her "Faith + Work" experience is especially interesting to us in this time of Covid-19.

In early July, I sat down with my cousin, Anna Shafer, who works as a physician assistant and surgical hospitalist at Texas Children’s Hospital near Houston.

EB: Thank you for letting me interview you.

AS: You’re welcome.

EB: I really am fascinated by the intersection of faith and work and how people see God in their work. I was thinking about what you do and where you are right now, and I thought it could be so timely to hear about your relationship with faith and work. So, tell us about your job.

AS: Basically there are three components of my job: First of all, I assist in the OR. Most of the time when a surgeon does a procedure, there is another person standing at the table with them, serving as another set of hands, doing whatever tasks they need so they can accomplish their main objective.

Another component of my job is that I manage patients on the floor. So, when there is a child admitted to the hospital, I go see them on a daily basis and I look at all of their vitals and everything that’s happened, I look at their orders, make sure they’re on the right medications, I make the plan for the day. I then go and talk to the surgeon and make sure that we’re on the same page and that the correct plan for the day is being implemented for that patient. So, basically, I do whatever needs to be done for that patient while they’re in the hospital.

And then the last component of my job is that I see consults. So, when patients come to the emergency room or if they’re admitted with something else but there’s a concern that they might have a surgical condition, we go out as a consultant and we see them and we make a recommendation.

EB: What was the first spark that made you think you might want to do this?

AS: I had always been interested in medicine for as long as I could remember--until I went to college and decided that what God wanted for me was to be a teacher and marry a pastor, which obviously went real well there!

EB: Was there a moment where you got a sense that, “this is what I’m made for”?

AS: This is gonna sound silly. There was a moment the family was down in Houston my sophomore year of school, and we were down at Herman Park and then we went to Texas Children’s, remarkably--

EB: Oh, with the [model] train?!

AS: With the train!

EB: Yeah, I remember that.

AS: And I was down there and I was like, I don’t know, God moved: I knew I was supposed to be in medicine.

EB: Wow! I had no idea.

AS: I went back and I completely changed my spring semester of classes. And then, that following fall, I had already been accepted to go study abroad in England. So I went and did that, and that was all theology. And then I came back, and I only had a handful of theology credits left, so I did that my last year and a half and then I crammed in every science class known to man.

EB: So did you double major?

AS: I came close. I am a theology major, biology and chemistry minor.

EB: Okay, that fascinates me. If you look back, one could say, “Oh, yeah, you wasted that theology degree.” But did you?

AS: [Immediately] No.

Concordia [University Nebraska] was where I was supposed to be. About two years ago, I was on the accelerated path at work and I could have spun that into leadership roles and a couple of other things, but it was, “What are my priorities?” And work just didn’t rank for me above some other things, and that’s when I went part time. That is to say that my number one priority is my relationship with Christ, and having my theology degree has allowed me to better navigate all different aspects of my life because I can understand those things a little bit more deeply.

EB: Is there a situation that comes to mind when you say that?

AS: I think more and more, the way I learned to study the Scriptures as I went through my theology degree at Concordia, allows me to study the Scriptures and apply them well in my current situation. The temptation is always to say, “Well, I’m a spiritual person and I do my work,” and you make them two dichotomous things. And especially when your work is so science-based, you’re not looking to see anything mystical. But they’re not separate. And because I received the training in Biblical exploration, in terms of exegesis--tearing into a certain Scripture and applying it and looking back at where it was and where it’s gonna go--I’m able to apply those things to my work, both in my relationships with my colleagues and in my interactions with patients and families.

And I think on a much more basic level, my time studying the Scriptures when I was at Concordia and at Oak Hill, the theological college in London, just really gave me this concentrated time where you’re in your very formative years, eighteen to twenty two, and it just laid really good foundations for the rest of my life. I came from such a strong family, so I had good foundations laid. It just built on those foundations. I’m convinced that that’s why I have a theology degree: because it built those theological foundations so that now I can go serve Christ in a hospital and be his hands and feet.

EB: Do you think there’s something unique about walking the path of Christ in medicine? Unique struggles, unique joys?

AS: I think that with medicine I can be tempted to “logic” God out of the problem. Because I’m looking at things that are very fixed, like, “Okay, you have appendicitis. We need to do this, this, this, and that.” And I can’t have these kinds of conversations with my patients, unless they bring it up, which is my favorite thing because then I can be like, “Yes, I’m praying for you.”

But the reality is that I have all these policies and procedures, but the more I see how the body works, and the more it’s a miracle when things work right, the more it’s a miracle the way that God has put the body together. And embryology: If that doesn’t point towards a creator, I don’t know what does, just because it’s a design--it’s just phenomenal. But I always have to remind myself that God is in the science.

And I think the other thing is, too, that I have to go into work with the love of Christ being my motivator.

EB: What would happen if you didn’t, do you think?

AS: Oh, well, I can tell you! First of all, it’s an office environment, so it’s really easy to gossip. I need to be the love of Christ to my coworkers. But I also need to be the love of Christ to my patients and their parents. And like you have interactions with anybody, there are always people that push your buttons. You know what? I’m called to love and care for them, not only because I’m a P.A., but more importantly because I am a Christian. So, how am I going to love and care for them even if what they are saying or doing is not what I would say or do?

I have some Christian pump up songs that I listen to on my drive in, but it’s just to make sure--because my job is all about pouring out for other people--that I’m as full as I can be before I go.

Stay tuned for next week, when we share Part 2 of Elizabeth's conversation with her cousin, Anna Shafer.

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