Dr. Thomas Kendall Sr. of Greenville, South Carolina, puts the patient-physician relationship at the top of his medical priorities.
Besides healing, that is.
“A medical doctor is trained to treat sick patients with medical diseases,” he says, explaining his simple, straightforward approach to medicine.
That approach includes freedom from government and insurance encumbrance. The Samaritan Ministries member, who has been a primary care physician since 1979, is also a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which advocates for the free-market practice of medicine.
In all his medical interactions, though, he makes sure he’s directly dealing with his patients and their needs. Since he doesn’t bill insurance, either private or government, he and his patients aren’t restricted by third-party decisions.
“Basically, there are three things that should drive the medical economy: one is cash, two is catastrophic coverage, and then charity,” Dr. Kendall says. “Those are the three things that ought to determine the economy of medicine—not the federal government, not health insurance. When third parties enter the picture, the patient-physician relationship is marred.
“Why should my decision to treat a patient with a certain medicine or a certain therapy be questioned by someone in a cubicle 200 miles from me?”
Yet, despite the challenges of operating in 21st-century medicine—he and his medical partner, Dr. Richard Kemmerlin, quit delivering babies after a significant liability premium increase—he has faith that God is at work.
“I do believe that medicine is a core value of the Gospel message, and that our Savior is the great physician,” Dr. Kendall says.
But he also sees parallels between the United States and ancient Israel in our nation’s moral decay, whether we’re talking about government, culture, or medical care.
There are three things that should drive the medical economy: one is cash, two is catastrophic coverage, and then charity.
Dr. Thomas Kendall
“God said, ‘I’m your God, and you want a king? You don’t want a king. This is what your king will do,’” Dr. Kendall says, summarizing the events of 1 Samuel 8. “That’s where we are today. We don’t want God in our civil government. We don’t want God in our decision making. We don’t even want God in our medical arena, unless we get so bad we cry out to God and say, ‘Heal me!’ But we’ll lay the principles aside that He established for us to operate under and expect His blessing upon us.
“But God is God. He can restore the land that the locusts have eaten, as we read in Joel 2:25.”
Dr. Kendall has done the work of the Lord not only in his practice, but also as a fill-in missionary physician to Togo for two months in 1994.
“The Lord taught me so much in a very, very brief time there,” he says.
His daughter, Lisë, had a respiratory arrest from medication on their first day there and had to have mouth-to-mouth breathing for about 20 minutes.
“God was faithful to us,” Dr. Kendall says. “She cleared the drug and began breathing on her own after 12 minutes or so, but that experience humbled me on day one because I thought I was going to do something wonderful for these African people and yet they taught me so much.”
Another time, he was unable to save an 18-month-old child with advanced malaria.
“The baby died, and the 20-year-old father had to carry the body back to the village, dig a hole, build a box, and put his little baby in it,” Dr. Kendall recalls. “And yet, as he saw me sweating and crying and having failed 45 minutes trying to sustain his little baby, he said, ‘Merci, merci.’ He had a spirit of gratitude for my attempt, even though my attempts were failing. I went back to where we were staying, got my wife and (seven) kids together, and said, ‘Don’t let me change to be hardened to the things that will help me do what God wants me to do.’”
He is grateful that God wanted him to be a doctor.
“True success is knowing God and His will for my life and doing it,” Dr. Kendall says. “He was so gracious to allow me to have this part in what I consider a once-noble profession.
“I consider medicine a window into the soul. That opportunity affords me a great platform for ministry. The Gospel message is what mankind needs and, when you’re afflicted and have a medical disease and you seek medical help, the doctor’s opportunity to address not only the physical but the spiritual as well is a real privilege. Of course, God uses adversity and, many times, the soul is tendered through affliction, through grief, through pain, and the answer to that, of course, is the Gospel message and its application to man’s needs. I love that part about it. I think that’s the part that gives real blessing to medicine.”
He’s disappointed, though, by what health care has become and how the original priority of physicians has been reversed.
“Issues with hospitals and hospital control (of physicians) has been part of the destructive influence in American medicine,” he says. “Doctors existed before hospitals. Doctors needed a place to put their patients overnight and have nurses take care of them. Yet now it’s the hospitals that are governing the doctors, not the doctors governing hospital associations and hospital policies.”
True success is knowing God and His will for my life and doing it.
Dr. Thomas Kendall
However, doctors committed to preserving the patient-physician relationship—Dr. Kendall always makes sure to put “patient” first in that compound modifier—are still battling, mainly through the AAPS. The group was started in 1943 and was instrumental in defeating the Clintons’ 1994 national health care effort. Dr. Kendall became aware of what he calls “THE medical organization that is defending private medicine” about 10 years ago.
“It was a blessing,” he says. “It was an eye-opening experience finding like-minded people in regard to the patient-physician relationship and its protection.”
Organizations like the AAPS are vital today because “the battle seems to be intensifying.” “The medical educational experience is such that now doctors are advised, educated, taught to have a different focus than when I was introduced into medicine,” Dr. Kendall says.
He also says new doctors are increasingly becoming employees of corporate medicine because of six-figure school debt. “They cannot open up private practice and pay off their debt,” he says. “They have to be loyal to the system that has resources that will enable them to then pay off their debt.”
Dr. Kendall compares these battles to “fighting a dinosaur with a toothpick.” But he doesn’t despair. He remembers David and his five stones, he says.
“My office, our homes, our churches should be what we call islands of freedom so we are able to exercise those principles in ways that accomplish the purpose for which our Lord gave them,” he says. “God said that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there’s liberty. I know that’s primarily talking about bondage to sin, but I think it’s true in applied principles, too, that when we exercise His principles, His purposes, His plans, we have a real liberty.”