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Reflecting on 60 Years of CMDA Campus Ministry

by Michael McLaughlin, MDiv
with Scott Boyles, MDiv, Will Gunnels, MDiv and Allan Harmer, ThM
Today's Christian Doctor - Fall 2012

In 1950, 10 medical students on the campus of the University of California shared a collective desire to share the message of Christ with their fellow students. So they banded together and a campus chapter was formed. It was that simple. All it took was a shared longing to create a community of believers on their campus.

More than 60 years later, campus chapters are located on more than 240 medical and dental campuses across the country. Today, CMDA’s Campus Ministry is an effective outreach that connects these chapters as they create a Christian community, teach students to integrate their faith into the profession and reach out to their campuses with the love of Christ. So how has CMDA’s Campus Ministry grown and developed in the last 60 years to be such a valuable and important outreach to today’s healthcare students? And what does a campus chapter look like in the 21st century? Join CMDA’s four Regional Directors as they reflect on 60 years of CMDA Campus Ministry.

In an article published by the Christian Medical Society Journal in 1953, Edwin Rose, MD, described the founding of that campus chapter at the University of California at San Francisco. The 10 students who formed that group spent time researching and decided that affiliation with the then-called CMS was “suited exactly to our needs as students now and as doctors later . . . [and it seemed] advantageous to join forces with a larger organization composed of many like-groups with perhaps similar problems and for certain a similar spiritual bond, that of faith in Jesus Christ.”

That steadfast commitment to Jesus Christ shared by the original members of that campus chapter certainly hasn’t changed for CMDA; although, it may be one of only a few things that haven’t changed in the intervening years. Just like American culture and the world at large, the CMDA of today bears little resemblance to the CMS of the 1950s. By and large, people in CMDA haven’t changed much as we still work and hope for the same ideals. We want to secure the opportunity to pursue an education and training, as well as the chance to practice healthcare and make a good living to provide for our families. We strive to serve God, our families and our patients. Most of all, we seek to know Christ and make Him known.

And therein lays our true purpose. As we consider the myriad of changes in CMDA in response to the seemingly exponential shifts in culture, rejoice with us that our mission has not changed. We remain committed to changing hearts in healthcare.

Changes in Organization

Today, we have effectively doubled our influence as the number of medical and dental students has increased by 400 percent in the past 60 years! As our influence increases, so does our organization as it strives to meet the needs of students. In 1984, the field staff consisted of seven regional directors (RDs) and three Area Directors (ADs) who were all ministers. Today, our current field staff consists of four RDs, 26 ADs and more than 35 associate staff, several of whom are healthcare professionals. And the numbers are still growing. Considering just those figures alone, it is a vastly different scene from even the early 1980s, much less the 1950s.

Field staff members serve an important role in guiding our local campus ministry. Serving as great examples of this role are Ed and Debby Read, the ADs in Richmond, Virginia. They have a deep impact upon their local community, as seen through the comments of recent residency graduate Janet Ma, MD:

“Ed and Debby offer strong and consistent spiritual leadership and guidance for the Richmond CMDA. They are the ultimate examples of excellent spiritual leaders and mentors. Under their leadership, the student and resident CMDA body has flourished. The students and residents are taught relevant topics on a biblical foundation presented as pertinent to our lives, such as creating ‘margin’ in a busy life, how to pray with patients ethically and how to serve patients with our Lord Jesus’ perspective. Ed leads a discussion group for the students and residents who are doing clinical rotations, addressing spiritual issues in patient care. He also leads an ethics elective for fourth year medical students raising our awareness of relevant ethical issues for a Christian physician. Recently publishing her first book, Debby ministers to women, especially those married to doctors. Her hospitality is legendary in Richmond.”

Associate staff members are commonly para-church ministry professionals serving with organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity, Navigators, Campus Outreach, etc. They are willing to invest anywhere from a few hours to a couple days each week to spend time on medical or dental campuses and coach student leaders. Working with associate staff has also increased CMDA’s partnerships with other ministries, in turn multiplying the impact of CMDA and greatly improving the quality of our ministry to students.

Changes in Opportunities and Resources

Opportunities to serve others through medical and dental mission trips continue to grab at student hearts. Each year, hundreds of CMDA medical and dental students serve on trips with Global Health Outreach. And even more participate in local school trips. Mike Roberts, DDS, led two teams with 52 dental students from UCLA and USC to Central America, and the Sacramento doctors took 14 students from UC Davis to Guatemala. And more than 1,000 students attended the Global Missions Health Conference last November in Louisville, Kentucky. On the local level, campus groups sponsor or participate in community service, serve in local clinics or community projects for the poor and raise money to purchase much needed medical supplies to send to needy countries.

Our greatest resource has always been healthcare professionals willing to mentor their peers and future peers. As CMDA has grown, we have witnessed the increasing need to provide godly and seasoned mentors who model the role of the Christian healthcare professional and the transformed Christian mind. Several different kinds of people fill the ranks on the frontline, including area directors, associate staff and campus advisors who come alongside student leaders for the purpose of encouraging, mentoring, training and equipping.

In addition to these mentors, we produce several excellent resources specifically designed for student groups. Another round of workshops for the Life Skills Institute was filmed in April with speakers addressing topics highly relevant to the lives of students and young professionals. The Saline Solution is a conference and video series focused on the integration of faith and practice. It is our most effective resource and we plan to launch a second version next year. We’ve also made Chuck Colson’s Doing the Right Thing available for student group studies. A six-part DVD series, this resource takes an in-depth look at ethics in our culture today.

Student leaders also desire to provide resources for campus chapters. Founded two years ago, the National Student Council began connecting students to the national ministry of CMDA. Presently, 75 students attend quarterly webinars hosted by NSC officers and field staff. With an ultimate goal of soliciting representatives from all U.S. campuses, this council has great potential to connect our student ministries with our national organization.


Campus chapters become hubs for Christian fellowship. At The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, they have noon luncheons, mission trips and small groups. The campus chapter at Penn State School of Medicine meets for weekly lunches focused on hearing about the challenges healthcare professionals face in their daily lives and their practices. These lunches, which offer free food as a significant draw, also create a special opportunity for discipleship and outreach. And that’s just the beginning. Other chapters have socials hosted by local physicians, mentoring meetings, large fellowship gatherings and numerous other events designed to create that strong Christian community for students.

“More than anything, CMDA was a gift from God to me; or rather a tool that God gave to me that made medical school survivable for me on many levels. . . .” – CMDA Member

Changes in Culture

We don’t have nearly enough space to list the dozens of cultural changes influencing the average twenty-something American. And while Christian students are not the average American young adults, we are concerned by the immature faith, the lack of training in foundational doctrines of the faith and the resultant susceptibility to “every wind of doctrine” and philosophy characterizing a growing number of today’s incoming students.

Spirituality in America greatly influences the church and many of the students joining CMDA. By being far more spiritual than any preceding generation, this generation excels in spirituality, but many students do so with little discernment between the claims of Christ and those of other religions. While they claim allegiance to the God of the Bible, more than a few struggle to embrace and defend biblical principles regarding chastity, heterosexuality, ethics in general and the exclusive claims of Jesus as the only way to God.

Recently, a student leader invited a Muslim classmate to attend a CMDA chapter meeting and to read from the Koran after which she would read from the Bible, following both readings with discussion. In this setting, no one would have dared to assert that the Bible was authoritative while the Koran was a pagan book. When we asked her not to move ahead with this meeting under the CMDA banner, she did not understand. Reluctantly, and hurt, she sent another email announcing that this meeting would proceed, but would not be a CMDA meeting. Despite repeated attempts by student and faculty leaders, she pulled away and remains distant from CMDA.

While events like this may not happen every day, it highlights the need for CMDA to train each successive generation as they seek to grow in their faith and increase their foundational knowledge of Christianity.


For students to catch the vision of integrating faith into practice, connecting with students at the beginning of their training is essential. At Oregon Health Services University in Portland, local community doctors plan and sponsor monthly meetings, disciple students at Christian clinics and lead summer mission trips. They also foster student-led prayer meetings and encourage students to take advantage of church-based biblical and theological training. At the Georgia Campus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, local professionals place a focus on life-on-life mentoring and serve together with students.

“I’ve matured in my faith, become more confident about integrating my faith into my future medical practice.” – CMDA Student

Changes in Technology

While cultural changes have certainly had a broad impact on students and our ministry efforts, there is no doubt that technology has changed the most since the 1950s. Take this experience from Michael McLaughlin during a visit to Rocky Vista University:

“After arriving in Denver, I pulled off to the side of the road and texted the primary student leader to let him know I was on my way and to ask where I was speaking. He responded, ‘Oops! Forgot! Keep coming, we’ll be ready.’ When I arrived an hour later, I found 30 students crowded into a boardroom with lunch in the middle of the table. During his last class, the student leader had texted the CMDA group and Subway, bringing the entire event together in less than an hour using technology we couldn’t have even imagined just a few years ago.”

And texting is just the beginning. Emails, webinars, smartphone apps, wireless networks, tablets and more are becoming the norm in our communication efforts. Regional conferences, area meetings, campus events and even mission trips are all advertised and planned largely through electronic communication.


Just as all Christians are called to spread the gospel, campus chapters also work to have an outwards focus on reaching out to their communities. The Rocky Vista University chapter offers free coffee for all students on a weekly basis, hosts ethical discussions that are open to the entire campus and is developing a local Side By Side ministry chapter. The campus chapter at the University of Missouri hosts quarterly “generosity giveaways” designed to serve their student body with welcome packets and baked goods. That outreach doesn’t stop with just the individual campus community as they also organize drives to collect supplies for disaster relief and local children’s organizations.

“The Lord really moved . . . and has seen fit to allow several CMDA members to play an important role as our unsaved classmates seek Christ in their lives.” – CMDA Student


These students will serve as our future leaders in CMDA both in their communities and around the world, demonstrating through their commitment to God and excellence in their practice that the gospel of Jesus Christ is and will always be the raison d’être for their practice, their lives, their very existence.

We are just one generation away from losing committed Christian doctors in healthcare. We face great challenges from secularism in our culture and on our campuses. There is a greater need for CMDA campus ministry than ever before, and we are determined to stand in the gap. Your prayers, time and support are crucial to this effort. To get involved in your local community, contact Campus & Community Ministries.


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