When medicine meets morality: health care providers find congruence between faith and career
To find your life’s calling and to be able to attain it while staying true to your faith has been a blessing for Dr. Sally Kurz and Mary Arnold, PA.
Kurz is a family practice physician and Arnold is a family practice physician assistant at WholeLife Authentic Care Clinic, at 1000 Bonnie Brae Ave. in Fort Worth.
Dr. Kurz’s interest in medicine started at an early age with her routine visits to the pediatrician.
“I admired him and looked up to him,” Kurz said. “That was my initial formation of the idea,” plus her interest in science classes.
Kurz said this was a “little bit of Catholic guilt — to have a ‘help everyone’ attitude. To combine the two — helping and liking the science — seemed like a good fit,” she said.
Kurz grew up in Wall, Texas, and graduated from Texas Tech University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Arnold began her path in business before switching to the medical field.
“I was actually doing business in college, in accounting,” Arnold said.
But after being present when her sister had a baby, Arnold found she “just loved the hospital atmosphere.” She considered being a nurse, but instead found her way to PA school.
“I just really liked health care,” Arnold said. “I love working with people and not sitting behind spreadsheets all day.”
Arnold was born and raised in the Bay Area of California. Ultimately, she found her way to Texas, graduated from the University of Dallas, and received her Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston.
As they embarked on their careers, the two women found challenges as Catholic medical professionals.
Arnold said her training rotations were “a little bit of a dangerous practice for a practicing Catholic.” Sterilization, birth control, and abortion crossed over into so many more fields than she thought was possible and avoiding or staying away from that was not an option, she said.
Kurz said early on she was “determined to go into OB-GYN.”
“I was going to be a pro-life OB-GYN and just be like — a great miracle worker,” she said.
While in medical school, Kurz became aware of the Creighton Model FertilityCare System (CrMS). According to the WholeLife website, “CrMS relies upon standardized observation and charting of biological markers that are considered essential to a woman’s health and fertility.”
“I certainly wasn’t going to learn this in medical school, so I pursued additional training on my own,” Kurz said.
But, instead of an OB-GYN residency, Kurz applied to family medical programs. Treating a variety of people — from a geriatric patient, a diabetic person, a newborn, or a pregnant woman, drew Kurz to family medicine.
“But, from a faith perspective, I saw a need for doctors to take care of everyone else. There are pro-life aspects to family care, more than just taking care of a pregnancy,” Kurz said. “I felt the need to play a role in taking care of people once they’re born.”
Today, Kurz and Arnold are at home at WholeLife Authentic Care Medical Clinic caring for patients from newborn to old age. Opened in November 2019, the clinic has four providers and 17 staff members.
“We built this clinic on Catholic values and will serve the whole community because we are Catholic and called,” said Nicole Harvilla, president and founder of WholeLife Authentic Care Clinic. “We offer care for the whole family, for their whole life, by providing family practice and OB-GYN care.”
Kurz said pursuing a medical career and living out her faith “actually is a lot like parenthood — very challenging, but very rewarding.”
“As a parent, you put in a lot of hard work to set your child up for success — through creating a safe and peaceful environment, teaching virtue, and constantly looking for help outside yourself, when you realize you have no idea what you’re doing,” Kurz said. “After failing at these goals frequently, I am tempted to take the easy way out of parenting — zoning out on my phone or letting my TV babysit my kids for hours on end — but that ultimately doesn’t help any of us get to heaven.”
In medicine, “It is easy to find a way out of difficult or complex patient cases,” Kurz said.
“But again, I am more conformed to Christ when I do the hard work to create a safe space, educate patients about their conditions, and do the research and coordination of care, when necessary, all while respecting the life and dignity of each person,” Kurz said.
When looking for a place to practice, Arnold found WholeLife appealing because, “I feel like it’s a very safe place to practice in terms of my religion,” she said. “It would definitely be a challenge to practice medicine in a manner that doesn’t violate my conscience in most clinics, which is why I love working for WholeLife.”
“It is rewarding to be a medical home for an entire family and have a unique insight into an entire family’s health history,” Arnold added.
Also, many of the patients that come to the clinic are frustrated by “the lack of insight” shown by previous health care providers.
“I love that we take the time to actually investigate patients’ symptoms, not just place a Band-Aid on them,” Arnold said.
For Kevin Fitzpatrick of Irving, his family’s path to WholeLife began about a year ago when his wife, Laura, was pregnant with the couple’s second daughter, Gianna, who is now 3 months old. They also have a 2-year-old daughter, Zelie.
Fitzpatrick is glad his whole family is now being cared for by the clinic’s medical team.
“They’re teachers at heart and want to educate and provide answers that are in line with Catholic teaching, as well as our own conscientiousness and parenting styles,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick recalls that one of the earliest and “most powerful experiences” at the clinic was when he and his wife were waiting for an appointment. A woman and her husband checked in at the front desk and relayed to the receptionist that she had miscarried her baby. The staff member came out from behind the desk to embrace and comfort the woman.
“We have a history of infertility, and we lost our baby in a miscarriage. That was really hard on us, but especially my wife, you know, really crushing,” Fitzpatrick said. To see the care and understanding that can be received from these medical professionals was uplifting, he added.
“I think we provide a place to receive health care that is safe for families who are seeking to stay true to their Catholic faith in all aspects of their life. Not to imply that every piece of medicine is either Catholic or not Catholic, but I think it provides peace of mind to know that your health care provider shares your faith,” she explained.
She added, “And, for our non-Catholic patients, we offer a unique approach to health care they might not have experienced previously.”