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Three weeks ago a female intern doctor at Jimma University hospital was beaten by an angry attendant who thought ‘she didn’t knew what she was doing.’ It was thereafter there came a news of peaceful demonstration this time by physicians particularly intern doctors from Jimma University. The interns in support of the beaten intern doctor went on strike from their duty to ask for the end of the abusive treatment of intern doctors.

As the news spread, interns from Arsi University also joined the strike (to my knowledge they are still on a strike). The case for Arsi was different because as the interns held peaceful demonstration inside the compound of the university with their white gown and stethoscope, out of nowhere  the regional polices came and beaten some of the demonstrators. This created a country wide sentiment on the treatment of medical doctors. Associations such as EMSA, EMA, OPA, AMA, etc joined the now countrywide revolution to “Break the Silence! Liberate the Health System!” From Arsi to Jimma, From Mekelle to Hawassa they have united voicing similar questions against the abusive treatment of intern doctors in their institutions owned hospitals.

A national committee led by Dr. Yared Agidew, a pediatric surgeon, was formed and issued a statement that clarifies the demand of medical doctors in the country. The questions raises were fair salary pay rise, health insurance, fair duty payment, no more 36 hours of duty etc.   

Ministry of health (MOH) tried to meet the interns in their respective campuses throughout the country. MOH couldn’t satisfy the demands made by the interns. Finally, the prime minister has himself held a meeting, which was ‘unsatisfying’ for most of the attendants, with the health sector last Saturday. The frustrated interns, in return, are going to have a country wide ‘strike’ from their duties starting from Monday, May 06 2019.

I have to be honest. I’m too frustrated with the responses from the government. I am also offended with some of the quotes that came out of the meeting with the PM. It is painful to dream to be a physician in this country at this moment. I share the feelings of all the interns in the country. With all my frustration, I ponder what I would say if I met the 12th grade me again.

The Hope for a Society!

Six years ago, a shocking article was circulated on the internet. The headline of the article goes, “There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago state than in Ethiopia.” Chicago is more Ethiopian than Ethiopia. It became clear to me that physicians are not being treated as they deserve. Nevertheless, I decided to join medical school.

Six years later, I stand as a medical student with a future in the field still asking if there is a hope for physicians in this country. I know physicians are the hope of a society, and humanity in large. Let me tell you the truth, they aren’t as hopeful as you think in their endeavor.

The only place my field of study gives me hope is when I am reminded that I am also a Christian. As a Christian I have struggled with the questions of every physician in this country. In the piece below I want to encourage my fellow Christian medical students not to give up on their struggle and also not to forget what it is to carry the cross as a medical profession in THIS country.

The Cross of the M.D

Dr. Damte Shimelis, is one of the first pediatric nephrologist in the country. Those who studied in Black Lion would easily recognize him for his humility and of course strict stance on grades. Dr. Damte is also a devoted Christian. He is well known for his dedicated service in his field as pediatric nephrologist in a government hospital. He was never hired as a physician private hospital. This seems crazy and foolishness for the modern day MDs. I am not implying that working in private setups or earning good amount of money isn’t a Christian thing to do. I just want to point out that being a physician is more than earning money, and I know most physicians understand that.

As for all other professions, there is a cross coming with the “M.D.” As a Christian we are called to carry our crosses with the duty limits of our professions. Especially in a time where people are fighting for their rights, one needs to stop and ask first what it means to carry the cross as a medical professional living and serving in one of the world’s poorest country. In a time of ‘striking’ for rights, I believe, the Christian should first ask the basic question first: “What is my cross in this profession?”

Jesus said, “Carry your cross and follow me.” I am hoping that my readers will at least agree with me that carrying the cross, which is a metaphor for carrying all the challenges and tribulations we face in this world, isn’t left for the especial Christians. Every follower of Christ has his/her own cross to carry. This cross is especially designed for each professions, however. The pastor’s cross isn’t the same as with the engineers’. The M.Ds cross is very different from the businessmen. We carry our career specific crosses. I cannot compare the cross of one profession with the cross of the other. There might seem differences in the degree of the severity of the cross. However, in the end what matters most is our faithfulness.

As a future medical doctor, when I think about carrying my cross in the profession, 3 things come into my mind. I have explained them as follows. 

  1. A Calling, not a Choice

All of my pre-college years I wanted to become an engineer or a physicist. I was good at it. I never dreamed to become a medical doctor. My family pushed me to study medicine. Choosing medicine wasn’t an easy decision. I had to go against my conscience. I had to go against my will. I am sure this is the story of many of medical students in this country.

I have to be honest with you, I have complained more days in the medical college  than I was ever thankful. I had to pass through uncomfortable days. I also know this is the story of many of the interns of this country.

Looking back to those years, I ask how did I endured all the tensions. Perhaps I was made for it. Perhaps this is my calling.

As much as being a pastor, being a medical doctor is also a calling. Gradually, I understood that the first cross I need to carry is to accept the fact that this is my calling. God has called me to become a medical doctor. God has called me to serve my people, my country as a physician.

Do you take your M.D title as a calling or just as a profession? Before you strike, before you even question officials for your right as an intern, may I humbly ask you to define yourself? Do you take your medical profession seriously as a calling?

  1. Serve the Poor

I asked some of my friends, “Why did you want to become a medical doctor?” Most of them answer me with, “To treat sick people!” I think they are right. The ultimate goal of medicine is to heal people. I agree.

What makes the Christian answer for the above question different is that the Christian doctor doesn’t just become a doctor “to treat sick people” but to treat poor sick people. Sick people are all over the world but they are all not poor. I commit to say we are called, as Christians, to treat not just the sick people but the poor people. We are not only to deal with sickness but the root of all sickness: Poverty!

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim … recovery of sight for the blind.” (Luke 4:18)  What makes Jesus’ ministry unique is his identification with sinners and the poor. What makes Christian medical professionals career is their identification with the poor.

Poverty is a sad reality in our country. Majority of the population lives in an extreme poverty. Majority of patients that are served in Black Lion Hospital come from remote area and are very poor. They didn’t choose to suffer. No one chooses suffering.

We are called to carry our cross with this people. Jesus by carrying his cross was identified with the sinners. We by carrying our crosses will identify with the poor. By our stripes they should be healed. By our pain they should recover. I know this sounds crazy. What else do we expect from the scandalous cross?

For this reason I struggle with the idea of ‘striking’ from duty. Striking for a day could cost many poor lives. I don’t know how I can reconcile the striking Christian with the cross carrying Christian. What I know is serving the poor is my calling, even at the expense of my life. That is my cross.

  1. Become a Missionary

As I stated in the introduction of my second book, five years ago, I went to my pastor and told him that I wanted to become a medical missionary after I finished my education. He cried! 

Let me be more honest with you. The only reason I endured the tension in the medical school was to become a medical missionary. I wanted to become a medical missionary like David Livingston.

I have studied church history. The best way to spread the gospel is through a medical mission. Do you know who the first protestant missionary to Ethiopia was? Dr. Peter Heyling. He was a German Lutheran physician who came to Ethiopia in the 17th century to preach the gospel. Do you know who planted the first evangelical church in Ethiopia? Dr. Thomas Lambie, again a physician.

I learned that God can use this profession to advance his kingdom. MDs can be more evangelist than the evangelist himself. They can reach more people through their profession. Then I ask where do these unreached people live? Of course, not in the big cities. They live far away from home. They live far away from money. They live far away from my comfort zone. To reach them is my cross.

Just last week, I involved in a short term medical mission in Holeta town, prepared by Agape Medical Mission. Agape Med was founded by Ethiopian nurses living in Minnesota state in U.S. They left their comfort zone to organize physicians in this country and treat many people in Holeta. I know their reward is big in heaven.

I don’t know how would a person who never even went outside of his comfort zone to help others would just stand morally to strike for his rights. I don’t know and I still struggle how can I please Jesus with my all heart when I am more filled with the love money than the love for people. 

I know this doesn’t sound comforting for many of my friends. I do not oppose standing for one’s rights. However, I think as a Christian we have a cross to carry to reach poor people with the gospel.

In Conclusion

I am frustrated with the government, the health system and everything. I am equally desperate about the health system politics in this country. The voice of the interns is my voice. I rebuke anyone who beats a physician.

I am also a Christian who sincerely tries to follow Christ carrying my cross. God has chosen me to become a medical doctor. God has chosen me to serve poor people. God has chosen me become a medical missionary. I try to reconcile my Cross carrying Christian identity with the frustrated medical student in me. I can say that sacrifices outweighs my frustrations. Service outshines my rights. Mission outstands my salary.

I choose to follow Jesus, I choose to carry my cross even when the salary is not enough, the service burden is too much and the government is not satisfying. I love people more that I love my rights. This is my cross!

If I met the 12th grade me again, I would tell him to choose medicine again.


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