Practicing Justice

by Nick Yphantides '86

As a follower of Jesus Christ who happens to practice medicine, I seek to demonstrate the love of God to others in a tangible way. For me, practicing medicine is like practicing justice. I believe everyone has the right to pursue good health. In a country as blessed as ours, I am convinced that we have the resources and means to provide, at the very least, a basic level of good quality and compassionate medical care to our residents.

So with all the things I have accomplished to this point in my career, the thing I am most proud of is that I have never seen a patient with private insurance in my life. For nearly 12 years of medical practice, I have been blessed to serve those in my community who need it the most. Each year, billions of dollars fund cutting-edge technology, insurance companies, and miracle drugs. Yet millions of Americans suffer for lack of basic health care. Entering medical school, I had every intention of serving abroad as a medical missionary. And while I have stayed involved and participated in multiple cross-cultural ministry efforts, it became quickly apparent that God’s plan for my life was to serve Him as a medical missionary right here in my own backyard. The tragic health conditions so many Americans endure, and their lack of options for decent medical services convicted me.

I had recently come across a quote from St. Francis of Assisi that I have since adopted as my life’s theme: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” I proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed through applying my God-given skills and technical knowledge exclusively to the uninsured of San Diego County. Over the course of my first decade in practice, I became the medical director of the largest network of charitable clinics in the county and even got involved in advocating for the poor by running for and winning a seat in public office. Politics provided the ideal context from which to share my convictions and make strategic decisions on behalf of the poor.

Unfortunately, I did so while constantly having to add the disclaimer, “Do as I say, not as I do!” You see, I was living a life of profound hypocrisy in my own personal health. Weighing in at 467 pounds, I presented a major disconnect between my words and my actions. Every day, as a specialist in preventive medicine, I encouraged patients to do something about their own health and fitness while knowing full well that my personal example sapped my words of credibility.

After much prayer, lots of planning, tons of advice, extensive accountability, and deep soul-searching, I decided to take an unconventional approach to address my personal health crisis – I would combine doing something good for my health with something I totally enjoyed. It would be a radical sabbatical, the ultimate pilgrimage in which I would fulfill a lifelong fantasy. I gave a one-year notice to the network of nonprofit community clinics for which I served as medical director. I chose not to run for re-election to the political office I held. I methodically unwound myself from every board, commission, and community organization of which I was part. I took out a mortgage on my house to pay for it all and took a leap of faith of unprecedented proportions. I love this amazing country, and I love baseball. I had always wanted to see every Major League ballpark in America. So, on April 1, 2001, I drove off in an old RV to pursue that dream – and better health.

Twelve months later, and 270 pounds lighter, I became literally half the man I used to be!

I recently wrote a book, titled My Big Fat Greek Diet, that chronicles my personal journey and lessons learned. As a result, I have had the opportunity to share my story across the country with people who need to know that God can give us the power and discipline to find a healthy physical and emotional balance in our lives. I now have an exciting new and vastly expanded mission field. The majority of the adult American population struggles with their weight, and I can share a unique perspective as a physician who used to weigh more than 400 pounds! I am so blessed and thankful to be a living example to my patients. Now I am able to preach the gospel of good health and personal stewardship without having to ever open my mouth.

Originally published in the Spring '05 issue of APU Life. View all issues.