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Hopkins Medicine Magazine - Big Questions

Hopkins Medicine Winter 2013

Big Questions

Date: February 1, 2013

Hoehner takes an existential approach to medicine.
Hoehner takes an existential approach to medicine.

Intellectually, there is an immense overlap between medicine and theology, according to anesthesiologist Paul Hoehner ’86. “Medicine is the one field of science that hits us existentially,” he says. “We’re dealing with life or death issues.”

Hoehner is involved deeply in both disciplines—with “one foot in two rowboats,” as he puts it. As an anesthesiologist, Hoehner handles between 20 to 35 surgeries a week at Johns Hopkins Bayview, either supervising the entire process as the operating room coordinator or performing the anesthesiology himself.

When not on the front lines of medical care, however, Hoehner is completing work on his dissertation for a PhD in theology, ethics, and culture at the University of Virginia’s Department of Religious Studies. He also serves as chairman of the board for the Chesapeake Theological Seminary in Ellicott City, Md., where he is a professor in historical and systematic theology, and theological ethics, and he teaches courses on science and religion.

On top of that, he recently has been named by The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale to be part of an international team of scholars that will edit some 750 unpublished sermons by Edwards (1703-1758), the renowned Puritan theologian and philosopher who served as the first president of what now is Princeton University. Edwards is the subject of Hoehner’s dissertation for UVA.

“Edwards is interesting and fun because he was not only a Puritan pastor and theologian, he also is considered the greatest philosophical mind that America ever produced. He sometimes is referred to as the ‘American Augustine,’” Hoehner says. “He wanted to show that faith was not inconsistent with reason. Edwards was sometimes ahead of his time … I’ve even written an article that uses Edwardsian philosophy to help resolve issues surrounding the definition of life and the ethical rationale of new stem cell technologies.”

Hoehner, 52, underwent a sort of “midcareer transition” in the late 1990s, when he was in private practice in Missouri. Long intrigued by medical ethics, he decided to “learn another language, the language of theology and philosophy … and then use it as a way to cross over the two fields—science and health, and theology—to approach bioethical issues from a dual-trained point of view.”

He earned a master’s in theological studies and a certificate in biblical languages in 2000 from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., and began work on obtaining his PhD, even as he returned to Hopkins—where he also had earned his undergraduate degree, completed his residency, and earned an anesthesiology fellowship.

After he completes his PhD, Hoehner plans to stay in medicine but really wants to concentrate on “combining the two fields and teaching and writing in theology, especially as it relates to medicine and science.” NAG

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