Medical doctor connects faith and health care through theology degree

Jul 10, 2019
Donna Ewy

Newman University has always been known for its Catholic heritage, offering a faith-based liberal arts education with the purpose of empowering graduates to transform society.

Its newly formed School of Catholic Studies houses degrees in theology, ministry and philosophy, to name a few.

2016 graduate Donna Ewy, M.D., earned a Master in Theological Studies from Newman and said it was one of many learning opportunities she has pursued in her life.

Ewy, a physician with Ascension Medical Group in Wichita, Kansas, had been praying about ways to enrich her knowledge when she drove by the Newman University campus and saw an advertisement on the university’s digital billboard.

“My brain needed something different but I didn’t know what it was,” explained Ewy. “I had been exploring my options, what I could do to fill that need for learning. I was driving down Kellogg saying a little prayer when I saw the billboard; ‘Get your degree in theology’ it said. I went home, checked the website and signed up that day.”

A love for learning

Ewy said learning is what she loves to do and she holds a total of six degrees; two Bachelor of Education degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, a Doctor of Medicine and master’s degrees in both theological studies and bioethics.

Early in life, Ewy had entered into a religious community and began the stages of formation while teaching. When it became clear to her that professing final vows were not in her future, she began praying, asking God what her path should be. That is when she said she felt a new calling.

“I lived in a vow of community and had no assets, no encumbrances, I didn’t have anything holding me back,” said Ewy. “I gave myself about a month, I did a lot of praying. In that period, the thought of medicine came to me.”

After learning her prerequisites were already covered, Ewy said she took the Medical College Admission Test and dove in. She was accepted into three different medical schools but ultimately chose the University of Kansas School of Medicine, where she earned her Doctor of Medicine.

Ewy is still using that degree, specializing in geriatrics, long-term care and hospice care.

She said her love for medicine still holds strong but she was ready to start learning again when she found Newman. Her choice of a theology master’s degree was a good fit for her career, she said, and added she already had a background in theology.

Connecting faith and caring

The correlation between the type of health care she provides and the study of theology, she said, is strong.

“Health care is one of those careers that can very well lend itself to being a ministry as opposed to a job. The theology enhances that and makes it grow. I work in long term care and hospice. A lot of my patients are in heaven’s waiting room. That’s a stage of life that deserves a lot of sacred attention. We need to honor that life in a particular way.”

Ewy talked about the ritual of washing, talked about in the Old Testament, is a connection she made immediately.

“In the ancient tradition and early Christian community, there was a lot of ritual hand washing. Biblically, you wash your hands before a sacred encounter, before you enter the temple.

In health care, the washing of hands is to avoid the spreading of germs — but it can also be an awareness of entering a sacred moment with a patient.”

Ewy said the theology, especially the social justice piece, emphasizes doing her job as Jesus did. She talked about His healing ministry being everyone — poor, rich, anyone who needed to be healed — but in particular, reaching out to the most vulnerable.

She added that the purpose of her team is to take care of anyone who needs to be taken care of and among them, people who come from very difficult situations.

“We take care of them all, no matter who they are and what their life has been like. I’ve always taken care of people, but now it’s the passion, the mission. We treat them all with respect and dignity. My theology degree enhances that piece of what I do in a very nice way.”

The Newman experience

The theology master’s degree offered at Newman University was mostly online, which Ewy said was one of the reasons she loved it. Her cohort met on campus occasionally but really connected through online learning.

“The online nature was beautifully done,” Ewy explained. “We got to know each other so well. Online — including the introverts — we all contribute equally and even online, you get to know everyone pretty well.”

Returning to collegiate studies while working full-time didn’t come without some bumps, she said but added that it was a fun and positive experience.

Not having written a paper in 30 years was a bit of a struggle but it was exactly the type of stimulation her brain needed. She also said the curriculum prepared her path for her next master’s degree, one in bioethics.

She added appreciation for her professors, Father Joseph Gile, Joshua Papsdorf, Ph.D. and Matthew Umbarger, Ph.D., saying they completed the overall great experience she had at Newman.

“Gile, Papsdorf and Umbarger are a fantastic trio of teachers. They’re different from each other and they each have their gifts. The combination of the three made for a vibrant program.”