What is it that helps a doctor to really see beyond himself and understand the needs of his patients?
For Russell L. Ramey, M.D., F.A.C.S., surgeon at Mercy Medical Center, that would be his faith. Ramey, the father of three grown children, has been married for 34 years. He graduated from Medina High School, did his undergraduate education at Kent State University, and attended medical school at the University of Toledo College of Medicine. He then did his residency training and fellowship at Case Western Reserve and Mt. Sinai Medical Center before joining the staff of Mercy Medical Center.
Though Ramey would say that his faith is very central to his life and his practice of medicine, he would also say that it wasn’t always that way. Coming to true Christian faith was a journey for him, as it is for many. Having had no church background in his childhood, he hoped that he would find some answers to life’s biggest questions in college. He sought answers from professors, but soon realized that they had none, “at least not good ones,” he said. Ramey underwent a process of soul searching and eventually found answers in the Bible.
He describes his experience of seeing what God looks like in the life of someone else, someone authentic. He saw a quiet power and beauty that was unique and quite different from what he saw in others, especially himself. That drew him to the Bible and eventually to a church. When he first attended church as a young adult, he had no idea what to expect. He feared that somehow the people would know that he was not like them; that he had no faith or understanding of God, and had a laundry list of things for which he needed real forgiveness. Though he anticipated a very high likelihood of rejection, they didn’t respond that way at all. They accepted him and showed him love and compassion, though he knew he didn’t deserve or earn it.
“The very credible lives of these people were key to my own journey,” Ramey said.
How does Ramey’s faith perspective influence his approach to medicine and interactions with his patients?
Ramey said, “I think it changes or at least touches everything that I do. It’s what took me into medicine and specifically surgery, in order to be useful in third world medical missions. Medicine, like any service-related job, stretches us and requires us to be outside of ourselves, to put others first, and not ourselves. I can’t really describe how responsible I feel for my patients. Achieving good outcomes is all about my approach to the variables. There are two spheres of variables. Within the first are variables that I can manage through anticipation, planning, further evaluation, education, and preparation. This sphere is absolutely my responsibility. God holds me responsible to control these things, as do patients and others.”
Ramey believes that nursing and other support staff have noticed his passion for working together as a team to meet these variables, which he feels is crucial for success. “The second sphere, a much larger one, contains the variables that I can’t possibly control,” he said. “It is within this sphere that God lives and which no person or other power can approach. For this sphere, I pray for my patients and entrust those variables to God. So I work as if it mostly depends on me, but I pray as if it mostly depends on Him, and good outcomes tend to follow.”
Ramey has no doubt that God designed him specifically for his job and directs his paths daily. “It’s not at all that I’m so great at any of this, but I do know that this was not just my plan, but His plan, which is obviously much more important,” he said. “I also know that God directs the paths of others and causes our lives to intersect, including my patients, which is pretty amazing. One of the most incredible attributes of God is that He works ALL things together for good for those that love God and those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I have no idea how that’s possible, but I believe it and see it every day. Somehow that also includes the really difficult situations we are faced with so often in medicine.“
He adds, “God plays three-dimensional chess, but we can only see it in two dimensions. Often we have no idea about things that are going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately suffering, though very difficult, is part of the human condition. It’s really hard to go through, to share in, and to watch people struggle through. In spite of that, God is not outside of our suffering. He is and wants to be very much within it and to somehow use it to accomplish things that could not otherwise happen. If pain never gripped us, we could not possibly experience the strength, the comfort, or the peace that He can bring to us, if we look to Him and trust Him in the midst of the pain. It’s just never purposeless, though it may seem that way.”
If Ramey could ask God something medically related, he would really like to know why we have an appendix. “I spend so much time taking them out and yet I have no idea why we have them in the first place,” he laughed.
Ramey has very little time to pursue hobbies, but when he does, he enjoys running, snow skiing, snowboarding, and water skiing. He also enjoys reading. One of his more recent favorites is Radical by David Platt. “It takes a hard look at what it really means to follow Christ,” he said.
When asked about leaving behind a faith legacy, Ramey said,
“Of course there’s the obvious legacy through my children, whom I think are better people than I am, mostly because of my wife. I’m counting on them for the future in so many ways. In my day-to-day experience, I’m not a guy who tries to beat anyone over the head with my faith, though it obviously comes up a lot. Beyond that, it’s really hard to know. I don’t really think that I am very much like Jesus yet, but perhaps in some small way, I can be His hands or His feet on earth to some other people, including my patients.”
The Bible describes God’s servants as being vessels useful for Him, some more honorable like gold, and others less, more like clay. “I’m pretty sure that on most days I’m clay at my very best,” he said. “But if I could even be that, then I would be very thankful, and maybe someday I could be more like gold or silver in His hands. It’s certainly a process, and I’m so far from where I started, but not yet close to what I believe God had in mind when He put me here.”
Article by Terri Pelger for Mercy Medical Center’s Tapestry publication, second quarter 2018