Eric Shadle reflects on his mission as a physician, a pastor, and a spiritual health leader.
Growing up, Eric Shadle, vice president of Mission Integration at Centura Health in Centennial, Colorado, United States, had his sights set on becoming a physician.
“One summer when I was about 11 years old, I was helping my dad with his landscaping business — mowing the lawn for one of his clients — and I ran over a hornet’s nest,” Shadle said. “I was stung about 15 times and ended up in the hospital. As the physician was treating me, I thought, ‘I want to be a doctor.’”
Throughout high school, he took the prerequisite courses to prepare for the pre-medicine route, but before heading off to college he had a change of heart and felt called to pastoral ministry instead. So, he attended Andrews University to study theology. But when his father underwent open-heart surgery the summer before his senior year, the light calling him back to medicine shone brighter than ever.
From there, he attended Loma Linda University School of Medicine, then joined the Navy through a scholarship program and completed his obstetrics and gynecology residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. A few years and several moves later, he was set up for a career as a physician practicing obstetrics and gynecology.
“Medicine is a real privilege, to be invited into people’s lives while they are in crisis, or even in routine visits, getting to have those personal, important discussions with patients. And as an obstetrician and gynecologist, bringing new life into this world was always a special moment! For me, there’s no higher calling than being a physician,” Shadle said.
He continued to care for others for another 16 years in his own private practice. But that original call to pastoring had returned. After much thought and prayer, he listened.
“I struggled with the idea of leaving my own practice and becoming a pastor for several years,” Shadle said. “In hindsight, I was really burnt out at the end of my years as a physician. I had lost that sense of connection to spirituality in medicine as it was becoming too much of a business for me. The business of medicine was stealing the passion of medicine and the joy of helping people.”
Shadle made the difficult decision to leave his practice, his lifestyle, and what he had known for decades, and in 2004, received a call to the Richland Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington state. He went on to pastor there for 11 years — kicking off community programs that are still running strong today, including a reading program for second and third graders and a diaper bank that supplies diapers to 16 community agencies.
Through the reading program, students who lived across the street from the church were tested on their reading level in the fall, and those who fell below the average could go to the church before school twice a week for reading lessons. The program has evolved over the years, and so too has Shadle’s appreciation for his experience in this role.
“It was during my years pastoring that I realized, happiness is not based on things, and giving back to the community has the power to elicit a true sense of joy. However, after more than a decade as a pastor, I knew I had yet another chapter to write,” Shadle said.
His story continues with a third career shift: serving as the vice president of Mission Integration at Centura Health and supporting the mission team. This team is focused on helping Centura caregivers connect to the ministry’s broader mission in their daily work. They also work with patients and their families providing spiritual care in times of crisis. Centura’s chaplains and mission directors help care for the whole person — body, mind, and spirit — of their caregivers, patients, and families.
“I can look back now and say through clear eyes, mind, and heart, that no path to finding true joy is linear. Mine certainly wasn’t,” Shadle said. “But I listened to God and followed His calling. I feel incredibly blessed to have had three fulfilling careers.”
The original version of this story was posted on the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook.