By Annie Richards
I recently graduated from Physician Assistant school at the age of 25. By the grace of God and against all earthly odds due to the influences around me, I am able to practice medicine in accordance with my Catholic faith.
After graduating from college in 2015, I applied to 25 PA schools and was rejected by each one. Since I had school loans to start paying back, I frantically searched for jobs and began to work at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix as a cord blood donation technician. I had no interest in women’s healthcare and certainly not Catholic women’s healthcare. Part of this job, however, required me to be present at every delivery at the busiest hospital in the Phoenix area. I was struck by the science involved in the labor and delivery process and even more so as I witnessed the reactions of everyone involved as these tiny humans were born.
A baby changes everything. This was not only true with the infant Jesus, but with every child born throughout history. I witnessed mothers weep and fathers turn soft and full of joy as they held their son or daughter for the first time. I witnessed nurses and physicians who couldn’t help but smile each time they delivered an infant, their jobs never becoming monotonous or boring.
I started to think about what being pro-life meant at its core and I felt called to work in the field of pro-life OBGYN. What I didn’t know was how difficult it would be to go through medical training with a pro-life set of values.
Fast forward a year. With more experience under my belt I was finally accepted into a Physician Assistant school. One day a physician on staff with our program gave the lecture on contraception. She had a slide in the presentation that listed the number of “unwanted” pregnancies each year and what percentage of them ended in an abortion. She included a cartoon image of the grim reaper and told our class of future medical providers that it is “dangerous” to allow this many “unwanted” pregnancies to occur and that artificial contraception was the only solution.
She did not incorporate fertility awareness-based methods into her lecture on family planning. I felt a pain in my heart during the entire lecture, and I silently asked God for the strength and grace to speak with her after class. I asked her why she did not include Natural Family Planning in her lecture. She responded that NFP was ineffective and obsolete. I told her that I respectfully disagreed and personally knew women and physicians who believed in such methods. She told me that I would never find a place to work that would offer NFP exclusively. I made a private vow that day, God-willing, that I would prove the instructor wrong, especially after how right it felt to fight for the truth.
Close to graduation, I began to seek out pro-life, NFP-only OBGYN positions in Illinois. After a quick online search, I sent my resume blindly to four physicians. The first three kindly responded but told me they weren’t looking to hire a Physician Assistant. The fourth was Dr. Karla Polaschek. God is not only generous in answering our prayers as individuals, but also uses us to answer each other’s prayers.
One Friday night, Dr. Polaschek was participating in eucharistic adoration with a weight on her heart. God was calling her to home school her son who was away at a boarding school due to some personal struggles. She knew this would be difficult as she was a busy physician and surgeon but she reluctantly agreed to God’s call without knowing exactly how she would manage. Monday when she arrived at work, my resume was on her desk.
Fast forward again. I now have the privilege to be working with her as a PA. My boss cares about me as a colleague and also cares about my soul. We attend Mass together over our lunch hour on Thursdays. Almost daily we discuss current events in Catholic healthcare while providing authentic women’s healthcare void of artificial contraception to our many patients.
1Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” I reflect on this verse because Satan has often succeeded in making me believe the lie that I am too young and too inexperienced to have such strong beliefs.
Although I have faced and will likely continue to face criticism, I rest in the helping hands of a God who I know delights in the work that I do. I pray that I can joyfully live out my work daily and be an example to other professionals I encounter. I am so excited to be beginning my career in the Quad Cities and I thank God frequently for Dr. Polaschek and the opportunity she has given me.
(Annie Richards, 25, lives in Moline, Ill., and is involved at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, Ill.)