Early this month, a priest in the Archdiocese of Kumasi in Ghana realized his childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor within the confines of his priestly vocation in the West African country following the example of Saints Cosmas and Damien who were both physicians and Catholic Priests.
Fr. Emmanuel Boateng who spoke with the ACI Africa Correspondent in Ghana recently described his getting into medical school as something that was always meant to be.
“I think it was meant to be as the song que sera, sera (what will be, will be),” Fr. Emmanuel recalled his admission into medical school.
He recounted during the July 18 interview, “It all began in my younger days when I got inspired by the lives of Saints Cosmas and Damien who were both priests and physicians. I discerned right away, convinced that it was the path meant for me.”
But the accomplishment was not a walk in the park for the Ghanaian Cleric who beat all odds, including quitting medical school for years to concentrate on his priestly ministry before he was eventually allowed back to class.
First, young Emmanuel had to forego his dream of becoming a medical doctor when he chose priesthood instead.
Highlighting his challenges as a young man who was caught between two vocations, he says, “The challenge for me at the time was choosing between being a priest and/or being a (medical) doctor. With the help of God and that of the spiritual directors I met along the way, I forwent the medical school and chose being a priest.”
“Honestly, I had no idea that this day will happen and I am a priest and on the verge of being a full-fledged medical doctor,” Fr. Dr. Emmanuel said, expressing his excitement after he completed six years of medical training at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana.
It was while studying at St. Hubert Seminary that his love for sciences was reawakened when then Archbishop Peter Sarpong asked him to study Science. While in the science school, his arguments in Science impressed other seminarians who encouraged him not to abandon his dream to become a medical doctor.
“Most of my classmates during our seminary days knew that I had more inclination toward Science and any time I had the opportunity to explain some scientific concepts to them, they were overwhelmed and they motivated me to further my knowledge in Science after school if I got the chance,” he recalls.
He would later reject an offer to join medical school again after he completed studies at St. Hubert Seminary and proceeded to study Theology in his pursuit for the Priesthood. Some people he met along the way, Fr. Emmanuel says, encouraged him to put all his mind to the priesthood if he wanted to succeed in the calling.
A few months after being ordained a Priest in 2014, his Local Ordinary, Archbishop Gabriel Justice Anokye asked him to proceed to medical school, an opportunity that has been one of the Cleric’s biggest sources of joy.
“It was the beginning of a dream to be realized,” he says of the opportunity he was accorded to pursue medicine in 2014.
The 36-year-old medical doctor says that his experience as a Priest as well as a medical student has been wonderful and “a journey well traversed.”
Medical training in Ghana is a six-year course and entails three years pre-clinical and three years clinical training where students combine and synthesize theory with practical knowledge.
As a medical student, it was necessary for Fr. Emmanuel to be competent in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology and surgery. Other areas that demanded his competence included internal medicine and therapeutics, child health, community health, obstetrics and gynaecology.
He says that from his experience, the Medical School at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is one of the best in medical training.
“I got a first-rate education with amazing classmates, learning from really passionate dedicated professors and clinicians, working with incredibly sick patients but also a gracious and loving school community,” he says.
Going forward, Fr. Emmanuel believes that being a medical doctor within the priestly vocations is not an out-of-place situation.
“Jesus as well as the early apostles combined the priestly and healing ministries together during their time on earth and we have the same mandate and power to continue such great ministry,” he says.
His expectations as he works towards specializing in either internal medicine or family medicine, he says, is pegged on St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 9:19-23, which states, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
According to the Ghanaian Cleric, it is high time that many Catholic Priests considered training to become medical doctors.
He says, “The church has many hospitals scattered throughout the country, and it will be great if Priests are trained as doctors who may work as chaplains and also physicians in their capacities to bring treatment to the sick both spiritually and therapeutically.”
To him, “the opportunity to participate closely and so significantly in something as important as a patient’s health is a profound responsibility to the Church.”
Dr. Emmanuel says that historically, monasteries developed not only as spiritual centers, “but also centers of intellectual learning and medical practice.”
He says that locations of the monasteries were secluded and designed to be self-sufficient, which required the monastic monks to produce their own food and also care for their sick.
“Prior to the development of hospitals, people from the surrounding towns looked to the monasteries for help with their sickness. From this brief historical background, it will be great if many colleague priests join the medical profession and we may do so in bona fide,” Fr. Emmanuel asserts.