A Meeting Place for Mind and Heart

by Cynndie Hoff

Scientists throughout the ages faced harsh consequences for their love of discovery, gladly weathering humiliation and ridicule in the pursuit of the next great truth. Although once scorned, the field of science now holds a long-earned place of respect among its fellow disciplines in academia. However, while study of the unknown proves less alarming to modern generations, no shortage of controversy exists – especially among Christians. As theologians and scientists grapple with fact, theory, and what lies between, Azusa Pacific University puts them together (figuratively and literally), facilitating a forum that draws some of the most faithful scientists and critical-thinking theologians. APU’s Center for Research in Science (CRIS) attracts top thinkers from across disciplines and the nation to confront the ethical concerns in bio and medical technology, understand public policy’s changing views on the concept of personhood, and reconsider the idea of an eternal human nature. “We are certain that there can be no conflict between true science and true theology since God is the source of all truth; conflicts only arise from discrepancies in human knowledge, understanding, and interpretation,” said Leslie Wickman, Ph.D., CRIS director. “Indeed, we should never forget that science, like every other field of study, is a human affair, and therefore, is always in the service of social and even political priorities.” Such is the philosophy that APU’s science faculty hope to instill in their students. Compassion and creativity mingle with scientific theorems and method to produce impeccably trained disciple-scientists, with a responsibility to serve. Armed with this comprehensive training, graduates inspire respect and ignite change in every aspect of the field they enter. From medical doctors to missionaries, from teachers to environmentalists, APU science alumni work throughout the world and across professions, but with a similar driving purpose.

The MD: Cathy (Bivins '80) Lehman-Schletewitz, MD

Prestige, respect, and a burgeoning bank account made the medical profession one of the most attractive career choices for serious scientists, humanitarians, and social climbers alike. But today, rapidly increasing medical tuition costs and an increasingly complicated and political health care climate prohibit a huge portion of the prospective physician population from even entering the game. According to the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the median debt burden for graduates of public medical institutions is $100,000, and $135,000 for private schools, with some reporting debt as high as $350,000. Over the past 20 years, tuition and fees have increased by 165 percent in private schools and 312 percent in public schools. Yet this staggering debt has not been offset by an equal increase in income. With a standard monthly loan payment of $1,300, average residents dole out nearly 25 percent of their net income in repayment. The skyrocketing costs directly correlate to an alarming shift in the industry. The AMSA believes that the debt burden may be partly responsible for the measurable decline in students entering primary care fields (steady decrease six years in a row) in favor of more lucrative specialties.1 Who, then, dares enter the field of medicine amidst the reality of indebtedness? And who among them pursues the less glamorous, less profitable realm of family medicine? Cathy (Bivins ’80) Lehman-Schletewitz, MD, family physician, began her journey on riskier ground than mere career choice; she chose to build her educational foundation on a then-little-known school with a fledgling science program. The six-month-old Christian traded in the University of California, Irvine after her freshman year for Azusa Pacific College in 1978. “The premed environment at secular schools is dog-eat-dog,” she said. “It is devoid of all humanity. At Azusa Pacific, professors care about each student’s personal growth and success. That difference provided for greater learning.” When Lehman-Schletewitz attended classes at APC, the student-professor ratio was 4:1 in histology and 6:1 in physical chemistry. >"Rather than amassing vast knowledge for application in the examining room, this noble faction takes their education and experience and pumps it right back into the classroom." Though class size has increased since then, individual attention remains the institution’s signature – a factor that paid off for Lehman-Schletewitz when it came time to apply to medical schools. Though her undergraduate degree came from a small school, her MCAT scores reflected the quality of her education. In fact, according to Bruce Spalding, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biology and Chemistry, average MCAT scores for APU students places them in the top third of colleges nationwide. “Azusa Pacific graduates have such a high rate of acceptance at prestigious schools across the country and virtually all of our students excel in competition with students from institutions like the University of Southern California, Stanford University, the University of California, Los Angeles and the vastly superior schools of the East Coast,” said Scott Kinnes, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry. “This is a testament to both the rigor of our program and the quality of our students.” The element of such a program manifested neither by transcripts nor tests remains the compassion factor. Modeled by her professors like Jim Rodgers, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, Lehman-Schletewitz learned the rare art of integrating faith into her field. “Other schools teach doctors to treat the symptom, not the patient. They say, ‘The GI bleed in room three,’ rather than, ‘Mr. Johnson in room three,’” she said. “It is a matter of perspective. I became a doctor for some obvious reasons – I have a natural talent for science and math, I can synthesize complicated information, I am decisive and a good communicator. But the heart of my calling lies in my faith. I know that the industry has changed. The best and the brightest go into business instead of medicine, because that is where the money is. I know I will never be a millionaire with two homes and a yacht, but I have a family, a life, and an opportunity everyday to change lives beyond the physical. My patients honor me with their implicit trust and some allow me to pray with them. No amount of money could compare.” “The fact that the vast majority of our students end up going into family medicine, general practice, or internal medicine is an outcome of what we try to do through our program,” added Kinnes. “They do not go into the glamorous areas that make the big bucks. Instead, they choose to enter areas which have a great need and allow them to be of service to the underserved of the world.” The Physician’s Assistant: Manda (Teeter '03) Robinson One of the fastest growing roles in the medical industry, the physician’s assistant (PA) offers an alternative to the MD track for those called to medicine. Born of necessity, the PA emerged only a few decades ago. In the mid-1960s, physicians and educators recognized a shortage of primary care physicians. In response, Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina assembled the first class of PAs in 1965 comprised of Navy corpsmen who received considerable medical training during their military service and the Vietnam War, but who had no comparable civilian employment. The curriculum was based on the fast-track training of doctors during World War II. >“They do not go into the glamorous areas that make the big bucks. Instead, they choose to enter areas which have a great need and allow them to be of service to the underserved of the world.” Essentially a hybrid, physician’s assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. They conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions. Within the physician-PA relationship, physician’s assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. Attracted to the emerging trend, Manda (Teeter '03) Robinson investigated the possibility of training at APU. “I wanted to study at a Christian school, but I also wanted a top quality science education,” said Robinson. “APU’s Applied Health Program was a close fit, and my professors and advisors tailored it to match my needs.” Robinson, currently completing her studies at the University of Southern California , maintains her enthusiasm for her career choice. “I worked with and consulted respected professionals in several specialties before making my decision,” she said. “The majority recommended I pursue the PA for various reasons. The two-year program was much less daunting than the traditional MD track, and the lifestyle of the typical PA is much more conducive to a family life. It seemed the perfect choice.” Apparently, throngs of Robinson’s peers share her opinion. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, more than 55,000 PAs currently practice in the United States, and more than 10,000 students are on track to join them. With an average salary of $78,257, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of PA positions to increase 49 percent between 2002 and 2012.2 The Missionary: Tim McCormick '05 A failing body robs the mind of reason and the heart of hope. Christ touched the sick, lame, deaf, and blind with relief from their ailments, knowing that before they would be receptive to His message, He first had to care for their physical needs. Then, it was leprosy, now, A.I.D.S. No matter the disease, the call remains constant. Twenty-first century mission physicians follow Christ’s example, treating the body to heal the soul. Glimpsing the profound impact of medical ministries when he traveled to Mexico with APU’s Team Luke, biology student Tim McCormick '05 discovered God’s call on his life. “I’m a science major because I love science,” said McCormick. “But my passion is missions.” Realizing the symbiotic relationship between the two, McCormick got serious about his studies and set his sights on medical school. “When I began to tell others of my plans, upper class students and professors rallied around me with advice and support, prepping me for the MCAT and creating a personal plan for my career.” The best preparation, however, came in the form of on-the-job training. Summers found McCormick in Mexico and India, shadowing doctors and gaining skills. “I took blood pressures and other vital signs, but nothing impressively medical,” he said. “It was more about caring than performing procedures. Those experiences changed me and I knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.” In the field, McCormick learned to see beyond the physical malady, connecting with patients on a personal level. He wanted his specialty to complement that philosophy. Osteopathic medicine fit the bill. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) learn to assess the whole person from their first days of medical school, seeing much more than just a collection of body parts that may become injured or diseased. This approach to patient care means that osteopathic medical students learn how to integrate the patient into the health care process as a partner and communicate with people from diverse backgrounds. “It is significant that we send a lot of students to osteopathic medicine schools,” said Kinnes. “Many say they enter the DO field because it has a much more holistic approach – which appeals to our students who see the important relationship between spiritual and physical health.” Though academically prepared and spiritually motivated, McCormick faced the same obstacles as all medical students – how to pay for it. DOs educational debt averaged $134,400 in 2003, up 2.4 percent from the previous year, and has been increasing during the last decade at a rate of 4.4 percent.3 McCormick sidestepped the system, securing an Army scholarship. “The Army will pay for my four years of education and three-year residency. After serving four years of active duty at an Army hospital, I am free to go where I want. Meanwhile, I incur no debt, get paid along the way, and spend my life serving people and God,” he said. McCormick leaves for Midwestern University, home of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, this fall. Though the climate may be foreign to this native Californian, he anticipates the program’s content and rigor to be right up is alley. “I am traveling to Africa this summer to help at an A.I.D.S. hospice. I have sat with patients in India at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and worked with impoverished families in Mexico with Team Luke. Those experiences shaped me and gave me the confidence of purpose,” he said. “I would not be the person I am now, nor as good a doctor as I hope to be, without them.” The School Teacher: Michael Robinson '03 Though all doctors begin as scientists, certainly not all scientists end up as doctors. Sometimes the pure love of beakers and Bunson burners alone provides a lifetime of professional motivation. Rather than amassing vast knowledge for application in the examining room, this noble faction takes their education and experience and pumps it right back into the classroom. Bestowing the ultimate compliment, science teachers often choose their career path in honor of one of their own exceptionally inspirational mentors along the way. Not so for Michael Robinson '03. Robinson’s call came from a higher authority. “One day God told me, ‘You are going to teach,’” he said. “I had served internships and volunteered at hospitals, senior centers, physical therapy clinics, and women’s shelters, struggling with identifying the specialty that suited me. Clearly Jesus guided me to my decision and paved the way to my position at Upland Christian High School.” As a teacher of biology, anatomy, and physiology, Robinson employs the techniques modeled for him by APU professors. “Azusa Pacific trained me well to stand in front of my own class,” he said. “I remember my senior seminar class and appreciate that Dr. Scott Kinnes challenged my responses, beliefs, and thoughts, so that I could dissect them and understand them from the inside out. Now I do this for my own students. APU gave me the tools to play the devil’s advocate with confidence because I have purpose. My goal is to bring my students to the place where they know exactly what they believe and why they believe it.” Robinson’s approach solicits full approval from parents who have pleaded, “Don’t stop teaching the way you do!” Daily, Robinson demonstrates that choosing education over medicine requires courage and conviction. The significant difference in salaries weeds out all but those with true passion. Though high school teachers garner little notoriety and sparse acclaim, the subtle rewards prove more than adequate for those with a heart for mentoring. "Teaching is definitely a calling," said Robinson. The Environmentalist: Erin Mangold '04 While the internist delves into the depths of the physical being, the environmentalist looks outward to the whole of Creation. Though equally intrigued by the “how” and “why,” the natural scientist trades the lab for the outdoors, tackling global issues such as acid rain, global warming, oil spills, and water/air pollution. As a high school senior, Erin Mangold’s '04 interest in science mirrored the contagious enthusiasm of her favorite teacher. Though no specific career track grabbed her attention, she enrolled at APU and prayed for direction. It came immediately. “I fell in love with biology and natural science,” Mangold said. “As a young Girl Scout, I always sensed God’s movement around me. But when I began to study its complexity at APU, I discovered the amazing connection between the natural world and the Creator.” Her professors fueled her passion and, upon graduation, introduced her to an internship that captured both her heart and mind. Seemingly tailor-made for Mangold’s skill set, the AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies integrates science, ethics, and praxis using the resources of multiple disciplines carefully respecting and serving God’s Creation. The institute operates out of regional campuses: the Great Lakes, the Pacific Rim, the Everglades, India, and Africa, providing university-level environmental studies credits transferable to more than 50 colleges and universities. Mangold began an internship last fall in Mancelona, Michigan, and has no immediate plans to leave. “I absolutely love what I am doing,” she said. When not attending classes, Mangold leads local K-6 students on fascinating field trips, collecting insects, studying pond life, and discovering food chains. Though the internship satisfies part of her national certification requirement, the experience holds even greater value. As she guides students through forests, hiking tall mountains, and digging in swampy ponds, she teaches them more than simple identification skills. She instills in them a deep respect for the world around them and models for them a love of nature that inspires a new generation to care for Creation through science, service, and sacrifice.

Cynndie Hoff is a freelance writer for the Office of University Relations. [email protected]

[1] Medical Student Association, “Medical Student Debt.”

[2] American Academy of Physician Assistants, “Facts at a Glance.”

[3] American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine,
“Indebtedness of Osteopathic Medical School Students in 2002-03.”