Anesthesiologist Dr. Bob Brunsvold ‘66 concludes every pre-surgery patient interview with one simple, yet startling question.
“Do you believe in God?” he asks. And moments later he’s asking his patient, “Can we say a prayer together?” Brunsvold’s bold invitation is accepted virtually every time.
“I’ve been doing this for more than five years and in that time I’ve had only five people turn me down,” says Brunsvold, a 21-year veteran of MeritCare Hospital in Fargo, N.D. “I’ve never push the issue, but what I’ve found is that patients are looking for Christian physicians. I’ve learned to pray with them based on their religious (denominational) preferences.”
Brunsvold says the inspiration for his patient prayer practice stems from a prayer and healing seminar he attended at First Lutheran Church several years ago. The seminar eased his fears and heightened his confidence in having such a personal encounter with his patients. He’s quickly becoming well known for his unique form of ministry.
“When I introduce myself as ‘Dr. Bob,’ I’ve actually had people say to me, ‘You’re the praying doctor – yeah, I’ll pray with you.’”
His prayers are a “hands-on” experience with patients, who eagerly cling to the power of the moment. “I’m a very sensory kind of person,” Brunsvold says. “I’ve actually had a couple of instances where patients said, ‘I’m not letting go of you until I am asleep.’”
Brunsvold says he has received countless cards and letters of thanks encouraging his unique form of ministry. “What they (patients) comment about is the presence of God in the room – how they can feel the calm and grace of their heavenly Father coming through. It’s not me that has any power – I’m just an extension cord.”
His extension cord has many outlets. He’s expanded his MeritCare ministry to include new mothers. After providing a labor epidural, he offers a special nondenominational devotional designed for new moms that was written by one of his church pastors. He says that effort, too, has been well received – though he has to fend off a complaint that he forces his religious faith on patients.
“We’re scientists and the hospital is not always an easy place to be a practicing Christian,” says Brunsvold. “But I think I’m called to this. What better place to have a Christian impact than where I work?”
His work these days goes well beyond the comfortable, high-tech confines of MeritCare to a primitive “jungle hospital” in Ecuador, where he’s participated in several medical missions since 2004. Every new opportunity to serve people at home and around the world are really the answer to a praying doctor’s prayers.
“I always receive more than I give,” he says. “This has become something that will be part of my life until I am gone.”
Originally published in the Spring 2007 Concordia Magazine