Jan Patterson: ‘God does the healing.’ We are ‘his instruments.’

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Jan Patterson attends First Baptist Church in San Antonio and is a physician in infectious diseases and integrative medicine with the UT Health San Antonio Long School of Medicine, which includes University Hospital and clinics. From deep in the heart of one Texan, Patterson shares her background and thoughts on being a follower of Christ in health care. To suggest a Texas Baptist leader in the marketplace to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.


Where else have you served in health care, and what were your positions there?

I worked as an internal medicine resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., where I did my internal medicine training.

I then worked as a fellow in infectious diseases at Yale University School of Medicine with clinical venues at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the West Haven VA Medical Center.

After finishing my fellowship, I was assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases and laboratory medicine at Yale University Medicine, associate hospital epidemiologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital and hospital epidemiologist at West Haven VA Medical Center.

Where did you grow up?

Fort Worth, Texas

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I was influenced greatly by my faithful Christian parents, Wayne and Zona Evans. They told me early in life about Christ’s love for us, and I came to love Christ as a young child.

I also was influenced by the wonderful members of Gambrell Street Baptist Church, which was my church home growing up in Fort Worth.

When I was a sixth grader at church camp, I realized my sinful nature and the need for a personal relationship with Christ and accepted him as Savior of my life.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

• Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Bachelor of Arts in biology and chemistry, summa cum laude, 1978.
• UT McGovern School of Medicine in Houston, MD, 1982.
• Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., internal medicine residency, 1982-85.
• Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., infectious diseases fellowship, 1985-88.
• Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass., Master’s degree in health care management, 2010.
• Helms Medical Institute, medical acupuncture training, 2018-19.
• Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., integrative medicine fellowship, 2018-20.

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About life in health care

Why do you feel called into health care?

I feel it is the greatest privilege on earth to provide health care to people. Patients trust you with information they don’t divulge anywhere else, and there are many tools to help make people’s lives better.

Medicine does not have all the answers, however, and attention to patients’ spiritual dimension and caring about people can be more helpful than traditional medicine. God does the healing, and he uses us—health care providers—as his instruments.

How does being a Christian influence your decisions in health care?

It’s important to acknowledge the spiritual and psychological needs of the patient. These are often overlooked, but having the spiritual dimension of being a Christian and recognizing our need for spirituality is an important part of recognizing these needs.

What is your favorite aspect of health care? Why?

Medicine is a fascinating combination of science, art and mystery. Science informs us about the biological, biochemical, pharmacological and pathological principles of health and disease. Art is how we learn to approach the patient and develop skills in doing history and physicals, and how to communicate with the patient. Mystery is where we learn science does not always predict what happens with the human body, health and disease. We are continually humbled by this aspect of medicine.

What one aspect of health care gives you the greatest joy?

Seeing a patient get better and thrive based on something you or your team have done is a great joy.

What one aspect of health care would you like to change?

Every person deserves the right to health care. It’s a disgrace that the United States is the only developed country without universal health care.

How has your place in health care or your perspective on health care changed?

After 30 years of practice, I’ve learned, while traditional medicine has a lot to offer, there are many things our traditional pharmaceuticals and procedures do not address. That, and my positive experience with holistic therapies, such as essential oils, is why I decided to train in integrative medicine. Integrative medicine integrates the use of complementary and alternative therapies with traditional medical therapies.

How do you expect health care to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

Healthcare will need to become increasingly value-based, rather than based on fee for service.

What do you wish more people knew about health care?

Medicine does not have a magic bullet for all diseases. There is a lot we can do to prevent disease. Our lifestyles, including healthy nutrition and exercise, are critical in improving our health and decreasing our risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other diseases.

About Jan

Why are you Baptist?

I was raised in the Baptist church and usually have found it to be an honest and unpretentious approach to faith. I embrace the priesthood of the believer.

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

My parents, Wayne and Zona Evans, were my greatest mentors. They had some very difficult things happen to them in life, including the loss of a beautiful young daughter in a car accident and the birth of a disabled son. Yet, they remained very faithful and grateful people. They served selflessly in their local church and went out of their way to be kind to others. My dad worked very hard to serve students and colleagues when he was in Christian higher education. Many people expressed their gratitude to my parents for their kindnesses over the years.

Bill and Phyllis Nichols are great spiritual mentors of ours. They exemplify Christian kindness and bless others through their writing, teaching and art.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

• The Green Mile by Stephen King is superlative writing, an amazing storyline and an imaginative parable.
• The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett illustrates the heart and mind are key to healing.
• The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, because “somewhere over the rainbow” really is within our reach all the time.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

Proverbs 3:5-6. We cannot understand the bad things that happen to us in life. We have to trust in God’s guidance.

Who is your favorite person in the Bible, other than Jesus? Why?

Esther. She was incredibly brave to risk her life and speak up to the king about her people. She used her opportunity and position to save her people.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.

Most people don’t know I’m a registered aromatherapist and use essential oils for health and wellness.

What was the most difficult time in your life and what sustained you?

The most difficult time in my life was when we lost our beloved younger son, Will, to mental illness and suicide eight years ago. This grief is unspeakable and devastating.

Our greatest comfort is we know we will see Will again in the Resurrection.

Our faith, family and friends sustained us, as well as meaningful work. The blessing of meaningful work helped me get out of bed in the morning.

Six weeks after my son’s death, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. This circumstance made me realize I had a lot to live for. After surgery and hormone therapy, I’m cancer free.

In the ensuing five years after Will’s death, I lost several other family members. Having recently lost my mother, I became the guardian for my disabled brother before his death. We stood by my father in his battle with dementia for several years before his death.

The grief and stress during this time made me grateful and more appreciative of the simple joys in life and ultimately led to my studies in integrative medicine. I also have a greater appreciation of my parents’ grief and how they overcame adversity to be such grateful servants of God.

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