Nine months on from coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, much of life has returned to normal, schools and churches have reopened and much of life is now as it was, albeit with the nuance of remote working. However, what about our brothers and sisters who work in the healthcare system? How have they navigated this most challenging time for their sector, how has it affected their work, outlook, and challenged their faith?

I sit down for a Zoom call with Dr Debisi Olunloyo to find out. Born and raised in Nigeria, she became a Christian aged 13 at school, and trained to become a doctor. She moved to the UK in 2000, where she joined one of our member churches, Jesus House in London, and continued her postgraduate medical training before becoming a GP.

She puts in long hours on her clinical days, so I’m chatting with her on a day when she’s at home, but doing administrative work. We kick off the interview by praying a blessing on healthcare workers, that they will feel seen and appreciated for what they do.

Panic and pressure”

Dr Debisi describes the panic and pressure of the early days of the pandemic and the frustration among patients as doctors struggled to pivot to online consultations.

Our healthcare system was tested… We faced what everyone else was facing, and then more because we were looking after patients.”

She describes other frustrations too. There’s been a lot of misinformation in the news about GPs not seeing patients, and no, we were working… sometimes I want to say, That’s not true, we’re working as hard as we can!”

What about now?” I asked. Summer data shows the extent of the NHS backlog, with a median waiting time for treatment of 13.3 weeks – significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. The truth is there’s so much to do and so little time,” says Dr Debisi, resources are not there as well. You do feel for patients.”

Yet, she remembers how tough it was in healthcare even before the pandemic: being a GP, there have always been long and hard days.” Plus, she says, there was always a wait to see GPs before Covid.”

How the church community can help

Moved by the challenges she shared I asked how the church can support healthcare workers. Pray for them, pray for the NHS,” she says. She asks for particular prayer that they wouldn’t be weary or downcast, for good mental health, which she says is a big issue in healthcare as you are seeing death and life. You’re seeing a lot. Pray for more resources, for good clinicians, for wisdom, and for our leaders.”

She shares the importance of asking that extra how are you doing?’: Look out for doctors and nurses.”

Yet, throughout our interview, she doesn’t jump to put them on a pedestal or describe them as heroes. The pandemic has been hard for everyone,” she remembers.

Every time I go to work, I pray about it, I commit it into God’s hands and cast my care on Him.

Faith in Jesus

We chat about the hard issues she has to tackle on a regular basis. These include long working hours, feeling unappreciated, patient complaints, and coming up close and personal with disease and death. It is apparent as we talk that (despite these unpredictable pressures she faces) she continues to keep her composure and amazing professionalism, grounded by her faith.

I really admire her approach to the challenges: private prayer fuels her every day; she remembers she has been placed by God to represent Him and His care to every patient; and she applies Jesus’ golden rule of​“treating others as you want to be treated” to her patients.

Private prayer fuels every moment

What comes across most strongly is her determination to pray and ask God to help her in her work. Sometimes I think to myself, what if I wasn’t a Christian?” she says, because the reality is we do see a lot of diseases, so you could start to become anxious, but I am able to hand it over to Him. It’s not a religious’ prayer – I’m asking for help with every patient I see. It’s asking God for discernment.”

She feels assured in knowing that she doesn’t have to take on everyday life’s challenges on her own. Being a doctor is God’s work,” she explains. I think that helps me a lot, being able to cast my cares on Him and to pray about it. When I do that, God takes it away — and I think, fine, I’ve cast that worry on Him and He’s helped me.”

My faith is a daily thing. Every time I go to work, I pray about it, I commit it into God’s hands and cast my care on Him… That’s how my faith works for me at work and even when I feel unappreciated, which happens.”

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Representing God’s care to all

Jesus House church has its own healthcare team, which is an innovation I have never heard of before. Dr Debisi explains that healthcare workers in the church meet regularly for support and prayer, as well as providing healthcare checks in the church building to help connect people with the healthcare system – something that is much needed:

The statistics say that men don’t go to the GP,” she explains, and it’s even worse among Black men… we find ways in which we can reach our members who wouldn’t normally go to the doctor. They would come to the health checks and we can reach them and have a chat there.”

She shares how she sees her profession as God’s work: I see being a doctor as a ministry because everyone who comes into contact with me can come into contact with Him.”

The golden rule

It’s clear from speaking with Dr Debisi that Jesus’ golden rule applies to medical treatment too: treat patients as you would want to be treated. She stresses the importance of retaining her humanity as a doctor in all the busyness. About five years ago, I lost my mum,” she shares, and that helps you understand what other people are going through… sometimes I’ve had to access the NHS as a patient or for my children.”

So, I always try and flip things around in my head and think when a patient is sitting in front of me, how would I want to be managed and treated if I was the one sitting there? … You can sit down in front of your patients and talk really quickly, turn around, and see they are so scared – they don’t understand what you’ve said! So, for me, being a good doctor is communicating effectively, so we can keep that relationship going.”

I see being a doctor as a ministry because everyone who comes into contact with me can come into contact with Him.

Christian witness

I ask Dr Debisi about the challenges of being a Christian GP, and she shares: It is a challenge, but there are many ways you can reach people and one of the ways is just being’ a Christian… People read your life more than they hear what you are saying. And by what you do and how you do it you are able to reach people’s lives.”

I mean, even in the midst of the pandemic, I’ve had colleagues who have had cancer diagnoses and things like that but what I’ve done personally is just pray for them. I haven’t told them I was praying for them, but I’ve just prayed for them.”

I think as Christians we just need to be the light, do the work, and be the Bible that people can read. So, they say I like the way your life is’, and why is that the way you are?’”

It’s clear from our conversation how Dr Debisi’s faith has helped her to navigate the challenges of the pandemic really bravely. Still, I’m reminded that we need to continue to pray for healthcare workers in this time as they support their patients, navigating the NHS backlog and Covid on the rise again as we go into the winter months. Let’s all uphold our Christian brothers and sisters in the medical field up in prayer.

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