Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tessellating: Where Faith meets Practice

Jeremy Beckett, Tessellating: Starting out in Medicine and Dentistry, Where faith meets practice, Christian and Dental Medical Fellowship of Australia.

The title was the first thing that caught my eye when a Monash Malaysia medical student lent me this book. I am ashamed to admit that I do not know what it means. It must have baffled a number of others too because on the back cover was a helpful definition: Tessellating = creating a mosaic from small tiles of identical shape.

Being curious how faith and medical practice may be considered identical shape, I started to read the book. The author, Jeremy Beckett was the president of the Christian Healthcare Group (SMA) at the University of Western Australia. He graduated in 2002.

Beckett has set himself a challenging task as he seeks to reconcile Christian faith and medical practice. However, it is not one that is unique because this is a task all Christian doctors or doctors who are Christian have struggled with through the ages.

Before Christianity, the Pythagoreans had struggled with ethical medical practice and their philosophy. The Pythagorean did not only come out with the Pythagoras' theorem of the triangle but also Hippocrates. In all ages, doctors have struggled with faith and practice. For some strange reason, medicine has always demanded strict ethical and moral standards of her followers. Faith and practice is a struggle and creates a creative tension for doctors and other healthcare personnel. This is especially so if one is serious about his or her faith and medicine.

The approach in the book starts with the gospel, the love of the Father, how our thinking are nuanced by Greek philosophies, leading to how we are to live out the Christian faith in the workplace as a healer, community-of-faith member, and disciple. I like his 9 practical tips:

  1. everything is spiritual!

  2. there is a different ways of doing everything

  3. the importance of human touch

  4. the value of a cup of tea

  5. learn names, and use them

  6. write neatly and document well

  7. avoid mercenary thinking

  8. loving the unlovable

  9. …and when necessary use words

There are many gems of wisdom in these practical tips. However I cannot imagine Malaysian and Singaporean doctors and dentists making tea for their patients! I do appreciate the gesture as saying “I have time for you.” Nevertheless, a Christian doctor in a government outpatient clinic may have to rethink the strategy as he or she may have to see between 100-150 patients per session!

This is a good book for medical and dental students to read. They need to be ready to engage their Christian belief and their medical practice in context of where they are. Medical and dental students must build up the foundations of their faith before they graduate because the final examination they will face is not in the final MBBS but in their daily workplace for the next 20-30 years.


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