The profession and art of healing: Bishop Olson celebrates the White Coat Mass for health care professionals

North Texas Catholic
(Oct 18, 2023) Local

people in white coats praying

Medical student Alyssa Foltz (center) prays with other medical students from UNT Health Science Center on Oct. 16, 2023 at St. Patrick Cathedral during the annual White Coat Mass. (NTC/Juan Guajardo) 

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FORT WORTH — Called to health care, to Jesus, and to fellowship, about 85 health care professionals and their families attended the annual White Coat Mass and reception held at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth on Oct. 16.

Bishop Michael Olson, the celebrant of the Mass, spoke to the white-coated faithful of the importance of trust and vulnerability between health care workers and their patients.

“Medicine and health care is both a profession and an art,” Bishop Olson said as he began his homily.

“What is at stake is the patient’s health, but more specifically the patient’s very life and being — his flourishing,” he continued. “This is what identifies medicine as an art that is broader than just being a good technician.”

The fiduciary relationship between the patient and his physician is one that must be developed carefully and with faith, Bishop Olson stated.

“Your vocation really is not just in the ethics of your thousands of years of tradition, of your field, but more so even from God Himself who gives you the gifts of the Holy Spirit to see and to act and to know, prudentially, what is the right course for health and the right course for this particular patient with a name, with a family.”

So many patients, Bishop Olson stressed, are unclear of the expectations they should carry coming into a medical visit.

“The mechanistic understanding of the body, which so many of you are familiar with both in your studies and in your practice, is too frequently the common misunderstanding that prompts a patient to seek out a physician in a sense and ask them to fix the machine that’s been damaged, the machine of one’s body,” he explained. “Yet what is at stake is even more than the patient’s body. The patient’s being sustained by the integrity of health, body, and soul is what’s really at stake.”

Bishop Olson at ambo
Bishop Michael Olson addresses more than 85 faithful in the health care profession during his homily at the annual White Coat Mass on Oct. 16, 2023 at St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

By regarding one’s patient as one created and redeemed in the image of God, health care professionals will remember that practicing medicine is not just a technical profession, but an art that requires a deep understanding of the patient’s overall health and well-being.

Later at the reception, physician assistant Sharon Cha shared her joy in attending the White Coat Mass, feeling empowered by Bishop Olson’s message on displaying prudence in her work so that both she and her patients can become better informed about their care.

Should they encounter the opportunity, more health care professionals, she believes, should pray with their patients.

In her experience, Cha has often encountered patients who “can be very spiritual, so sometimes they invite me to pray; they sense that I have the Holy Spirit in me, and so they will start to pray with me.”

The physician assistant of about fifteen years acknowledges that health care workers are limited in the sense that they’re in the workplace and unable to openly speak on religion, so she recommends that “you do so discreetly. I have given medals, scapulars, rosaries, and prayer cards to patients.”

Father Wallis distributes Communion
A Catholic in the medical profession receives Communion from Father Jonathan Wallis on Oct. 16, 2023 at St. Patrick Cathedral during the annual White Coat Mass. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Equally delighted to have come across a community of medical professionals, audiologist Kaitlyn Kennedy quickly shared the news of the recently launched Fort Worth Guild of the Catholic Medical Association with her fellow Catholic colleagues and friends.

“When I worked at Cook Children’s, there were a lot of us in the same office and a lot of us with different faith and political beliefs. A lot of times, just to keep the workplace [professional], those things [concerning one’s faith and prayer] wouldn’t come up,” she said. “It took four years of me working there to find out my manager was Catholic.”

Having moved from St. Louis, Missouri, five years ago where she felt that everyone was Catholic, Dr. Kennedy was pleased to find out at the White Mass that “there are more Catholic health care workers than I thought at first glance.”

At work, she often finds solace and support in prayer.

“I’ll say a prayer every morning, offering up the day and I’ll say a quick prayer before I give difficult results that I’m not comfortable giving,” said the audiologist, who also serves as St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth’s youth minister.

Dr. Kennedy’s work with her Catholic community’s youth and her time spent working at Cook Children’s as well as her present practice have kept her firmly in God’s embrace.

“I don’t think you can be in health care and not feel God’s presence in some way. Especially with what I do, where I get to help people hear for the first time ever or for the first time in a long time, it’s nothing that I can do on my own.

“It’s only through the work of God that someone found the technology and the ability to do that, so it’s a really, really cool thing to be a part of a patient’s journey in that way.”

White Coat Mass, healing, Diocese of Fort Worth, health care professionals, Catholic health care, trending-english