YAKIMA — He’s hoping to make an impact — medically and spiritually.
Specifically, Dr. David Pommer wants to “change hearts in health care.”
That’s the motto of the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), a national group of health care providers. Pommer heads the local chapter.
The national group, headquartered in Tennessee, has 30,000 members and chapters at 200 medical schools. The mission is “to glorify God by motivating, educating and equipping Christian doctors and students.”
The local chapter, co-founded 10 years ago by Yakima endocrinologist Gary Treece, meets bi-monthly, with a core group of about a dozen health care providers. Physicians, dentists, medical students and physician assistants are eligible to join.
Treece became a member because “as an organization they sponsor and promote activities I believe in, and they are pro-life, pro-medical ethics and medical integrity. They look out for physicians being able to exercise their practice with dignity and integrity.”
Pommer, who practices family medicine in Selah, said the group looks at a broad range of issues, everything from physician-assisted suicide to health care reform.
“It’s an area where you can grow and be re-charged,” Pommer said. “You can share ideas and learn about things, such as racial reconciliation and health care overseas. And you can encourage and mentor students.”
The group also monitors issues around conscience rights, which in some cases permit health care providers the option not to give certain medical services for reasons of religion or conscience. Those might be abortion, contraception and stem-cell treatments. Congress may consider those rights sometime soon; bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would extend, and expand, conscience protections to the Affordable Care Act.
In addition, association members speak out about end-of-life issues. “We’re adamantly against physician-assisted suicide,” Pommer said. “The thinking is if you create that option, then some people may think it’s an obligation to do it.”
He feels strongly about the sanctity of life, partly because he has a son with special needs: “It makes me think about those things because I think his life is meaningful.”
The Yakima chapter of the Christian Medical and Dental Association has brought in several national speakers through the years; in June, the group heard a Canadian medical ethicist, Dr. John Patrick, talk about medical ethics, faith and culture.
Pommer said one of the interesting points Patrick pondered was technological advances in prenatal testing, warning about pitfalls in judging the merit of a fetus from tests.
Philanthropist Helen Keller might be a good example, Pommer said. Although she didn’t become deaf and blind until she was almost 2 years old, prenatal testing might have shown a disposition to contracting the unknown illness that caused her disabilities. Most people would say Keller went on to live a productive life, Pommer said.
Other speakers addressing the group have discussed preventing human trafficking, and, in an area of poverty and mixed races, reconciling racial difficulties as a physician.
Pommer says it’s important that patients know their physician has moral integrity, which the association underscores.
He mentors medical students at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences involved in the campus chapter of the group, coordinating meetings between students and other physicians and hosting Friday night dinners once a month for students. Discussion those evenings revolves around issues raised in a book, “Practice By the Book: A Christian Doctor’s guide to Living and Serving,” such as characteristics of Christian physicians, how to respond to poverty, manage time and money, support marriage and family, and deal with the possibility of a malpractice lawsuit.
“Being able to mentor students has been a great thing,” Pommer said.
He joined the Christian Medical and Dental Association when he was in medical training. After growing up in Issaquah, he graduated from Whitworth College in Spokane, then attended medical school at the University of Washington. He completed a residency in family practice in Oklahoma City. He and his wife, Heidi, moved to Yakima in 2003; they have three children, ages 12, 9 and 4.
“What attracted me to CMDA was carry-over of values,” Pommer said. “My experience at the (University of Washington) was hard and not very supportive, so that drove me, in part, to the group. It was a lifeline for me. So I try to think about how I can make things more positive for students at PNWU.”
Krystal Thueringer, a fourth-year medical student at PNWU, noted in an email that the group has helped her think about how to integrate her beliefs into practicing medicine.
“CMDA provides a great way to get to know fellow Christian students and faculty at PNWU as well as Christian physicians in the Yakima community. Connecting with doctors in the community who share similar beliefs helped me to have a more concrete understanding of what it looks like to bring Biblical principles into the practice of medicine.”
In practicing as a Christian physician, Pommer said his first goal is to provide very competent, compassionate care to his patients.
If patients indicate they have an interest in faith, then he’ll talk with them about it.
“If they’re receptive, or if I think it will help their health, I’ll ask if I could pray with them. If they don’t respond, I move on,” he said.
He sometimes asks patients if they have a church family: “Some studies show a correlation between lower blood pressure and churchgoing,” he noted.
For Pommer, whether or not he’s part of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, his most important medical goal is practicing in a way consistent with Christian precepts.
To that end, he asks himself, “Did I integrate the values of God today into the way I practice?”