The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, “to call.” The new Physician’s Vocation Program at the Stritch School of Medicine aims to cultivate this sense of calling in medical students. John Hardt, PhD, vice president and associate provost of mission integration at the Health Sciences Division, launched the program in January of this year with the support of a Templeton grant from the University of Chicago’s Program on Medicine and Religion. The Physician’s Vocation Program is a direct response to data indicating that students graduate from medical school feeling less compassionate and more cynical about their work as doctors than when they started. Some report experiencing professional “burn-out” before starting their work as doctors.

The Physician’s Vocation Program is aimed at changing these attitudes by helping students to understand themselves as called to the practice of medicine, with all its difficulties and frustrations. “Medicine lends itself to important questions of human meaning and purpose, life and death, illness and suffering, hope and healing,” says Hardt. “We’d like to help our students grow into a more realistic and hopeful sense of what it means to be a physician.” The first cohort of 22 students are participating in coursework on medicine and religion, forming a community of shared support, and committing to a habit of prayer and an experience of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.

“I don’t want to have my faith be separate from what I do; I want my faith to be integrated in how I treat people and how I go about caring for others,” says Matthew Partain, a student in the cohort. “This program is really going to help me stay grounded and always remember why I got into medicine in the first place, which is to be able to bear witness to other people’s pain and to be able to see God in them, and, in that way, to provide the care and treatment that they need.”