Dr. Ann Sirek is an endocrinologist who has practiced medicine in Kitchener-Waterloo for over thirty years. Over the course of her career treating individuals with diabetes, Ann began to nurse doubts about the prevalent discourse that dominates the medical field. In her experience, health-care culture puts great pressure on quantifiable outcomes and clinical decision-making but often neglects the importance of other humane considerations, like ensuring the comfort and security of patients with chronic illness. Ann felt that in order to find a new direction for her practice, she would have to go “beyond the medical paradigm” to find an approach which affirmed her deeply held values.
Ann began looking around to find a new perspective. At the recommendation of some of the medical ethicists she consulted, she found Regis College, and enrolled as a part-time student. While balancing the hectic demands of her practice, Ann was able to set aside a day or two a week in order to take classes.
Having been schooled in the sciences, adapting to the academic environment at Regis was something of a culture-shock. Ann likened coming to her first classes to “being in orbit, and entering a whole new world.” She found herself spending much of her time in the library wading through dictionaries and bibliographies, accustoming herself to the new theological language. Although challenging, she felt that the time that she spent there was like being in a sanctuary, where she could take a step back and take stock of her career and life-experiences. Before long, she was returning to her patients with a renewed passion and a richness of commitment that invigorated her approach to healing.
As she acculturated herself to Regis’ rich dialogue, Ann began applying her new theological language to the problems that plagued her as a medical practitioner. Her spiritual education equipped her with a vocabulary to express many of the issues she had about the experiences of her patients. Ann was painfully aware that all too many of those afflicted with chronic illness go through a myriad of intense emotions including shame, suffering, resentment, as well as acute isolation and social fragmentation. She knew personally that the antidote to these turbulent feelings were the familiar values of hope, compassion, gratitude, meaning, and community-building. Her goal gradually became clear to her: to act as a translator between the two worlds that she was engaged in, or, in her words, to “rework the symbols of Christianity into an idiom accessible to the medical subculture.” She wanted to develop a ministry of her own.
The outcome of the paradigm shift that Ann experienced at Regis is the corporate entity, Diabetes in Motion, an organization whose mission is to help diabetes patients and facilitators develop self-management programs. Patients with diabetes are required to make difficult life-style changes, encouraged by narrative-sharing in small groups and sustained by a daily mindfulness practice (akin to contemplative prayer). These notions are an integration of diabetes management, addictions management, and a faith tradition of prayerful recollection of narrative, both personal and communal. The program evaluations are a qualitative reflection upon a participants’ process of change, as well as a quantitative assessment of medical outcomes over time. The mission is to broaden medical dialogue by proposing a structured approach to compassion and suffering that emphasizes presence over intervention.
Though a degree was not Ann's motive for coming to Regis, she eventually achieved a Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.). But more importantly, she found a fresh vantage from which she could approach her life’s work. Being able to move between the two worlds of medicine and theology has broadened Ann’s understanding of both, and in joining the two she has helped improve the quality of care for her patients.
Dr. Ann Sirek graduated from Regis College with an M.T.S. in 2007. She continues her work with diabetes patients through her Diabetes in Motion program (www.diabetesinmotion.ca).