To serve the lost, last, least

Ervin TanFeature

Dr Shaun Nathan (far right) with his colleagues at St Andrew’s Community Hospital.

Photo: Shaun Nathan (taken pre-Covid)

To serve the lost, last, least

The GIFT programme calls each Catholic to give of their time, talents and treasures. Having rediscovered his faith 4 years ago, Dr Shaun Nathan joined a young working adult community under the Office for Young People. He shares how God led him to his personal vocation as a doctor working in geriatric and palliative medicine.

In 2017, I attended a discipleship school that greatly impacted my faith and life for the better. In those eight weeks, the Lord surfaced issues in my life that were preventing me from drawing close to Him, many of which were related to my previous ideal of pursuing a glamorous career. I had wanted a high profile speciality, which would enable me to obtain the best things in life—cars, houses, money—but what became clear was that true meaning was finding God in what I was doing.

A prompt from God

One night, after a session on personal vocation, I offered up to God a particular patient who had passed away under my palliative care. I remembered that when I had first heard the news of his demise, I broke down. It was not the first time that a patient died under my care, but something about this patient broke my heart.

As God continued to surface this memory of him during prayer, an image of a nursing home appeared in my mind. I realised then that this image represented the vocation He was calling me to, to serve people who felt abandoned or did not have much and needed to see the love of God. This led me to a career in geriatric and palliative medicine, and I eventually joined the residency programme (a training programme to groom specialists) in this field.

His will, not mine

However, after two years of many ups and downs, and heartbreaks in the programme, I left, barely finishing half of it. I felt like a failure. I began to ask God why He even put this desire in my heart only to let me fail at it. For a long time, I thought that I had let God down. But little did I know this was God’s way of orchestrating a greater plan for me.

When the COVID pandemic hit, I was asked to serve in the nursing homes as a general practitioner. Though I was at peace with this posting, I felt a tinge of envy for not being in the front lines with my colleagues struggling in the acute hospitals. I was troubled that I had it easy in the nursing homes, while there were people out there gravely in need of my help to fight this pandemic. This weighed heavily on me because doctors are called to save lives, and personally, it was the main reason why I wanted to be in this profession. I spoke to my boss, who was a non-Catholic Christian, to volunteer in the front lines. But she could see the hand of God in the work that I was doing, and encouraged me in faith to carry on. With some reluctance and doubt, I surrendered control to change my path and took each day as it came, asking God to reveal, more and more, His will for my life.

Reassurance of His plan for me

Three months later, during Holy Week of 2020, I felt God’s prompting when I was in silent adoration. In that prayer experience, I heard Him reassuring me that this was exactly where I was meant to be. I felt deeply encouraged by it.

I knew with conviction that what my palliative and geriatric colleagues and I were doing in the “back lines” was really what He had willed for us. God had transformed our seemingly less important work into something big. By His grace, our contribution was recognised when we won the Singapore Health Quality Service Award earlier this year. I truly believe we won because we responded to His call to be fully committed to this mission, and more importantly to the people entrusted to us.

Through this entire journey, I have come to understand that God’s work does not simply happen overnight. It really takes a lifetime for us to listen and respond in faith daily. I firmly believe that with whatever failures or successes I have experienced, or am going to encounter in the future, that prompting that I felt from God during Holy Week of last year endures till this day. I am exactly where I need to be, and all God wants from me is to simply give a small daily “yes” to Him.

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