Doctor, Soldier, Musician & Healer

The following interview was featured in War Cry, a national publication of The Salvation Army. Click here to subscribe online.

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The Salvation Army, New York Staff Band, Military, Service, Youth

USAF Major Bethany Mikles

USAF Major Bethany Mikles enjoys a challenging and fulfilling career in the armed forces serving as a pediatric oncologist. But she also seeks, during her spare time, to honor the Lord as a Salvation Army musician and bandsman in both her local corps and as a member of the New York Staff Band.

WC: What is your earliest musical memory?

Mikles: I grew up in an incredibly gifted musical family. I remember around the age of four, my dad sitting at the piano teaching me basics, and I remember as well taking guitar and trumpet lessons. It was just part of our normal growing up because my dad thought it was important.

WC: What was the first time music really meant something special to you?

Mikles: It goes back to seeing my dad, a Salvation Army officer, sing and play from the pulpit and the stage. I remember thinking how big music was in his ministry, how he was touching people, not just with his preaching but also through his music.

I remember coming home from school and sitting at the piano. That was kind of my release. I enjoyed orchestra, high school band and participating in the Salvation Army corps music programs. That for me was fun.

WC: As your profession which came first, the military or medicine?

Mikles: I knew I wanted to do medicine when I was about 14 years old. I started down that path for missionary work knowing that the need overseas was heavy for medical missions work. I did that for a few summers and even a year in Africa prior to actually attending medical school. In medical school, I joined the Air Force as a way to give back. They paid for school completely so it was a bonus financial relief as well. I felt called to minister to families that were going through trying times.

WC: Explain how pediatric oncology impacts your life.

Mikles: People’s reactions change when I tell them what I do. They go from “What do you do?” to “That must be hard.” In reality, pediatric oncology is a very uplifting and encouraging field. Survival rates are over 80% for pediatric cancers in general. Treatment also does very well with other types of lymphomas and leukemias to the point where it is close to 90%. Knowing that you are giving a kid his entire life by treating his cancer is very rewarding. In clinic, I love seeing my follow-up patients who have been off therapy for a year. They are full of life. That’s why I do it. There are hard cases and there are hard patients, but it is incredibly rewarding.

WC: The issue of children having cancer is a parent’s worst nightmare. Tell me how your faith intersects with this most challenging field.

Mikles: I find that most families going through this tend to gravitate toward some sort of religious experience. Most families know that I am a Christian. Generally, the ones that share my faith ask me to pray with them and I am happy to do that. I am not allowed to push my religion on anybody, but people know that I believe in the healing powers of medicine as well as the healing powers of Christ.

There are hard times. Just this past month I have lost two of my patients. They are precious kids and families, and I really got to know them over the course of two years. I don’t think I have ever doubted, simply because my faith in God is strong enough and I know that He is in it all. Ultimately, these kids had an end to their suffering. It was their ultimate healing.

God often speaks to me through music in my moments of doubt or struggling. A song in my head will be God’s word to me to help and encourage me. No matter where I am, there is this interweaving of some piece of music that is a powerful thing. Besides Scripture, I don’t think anything else has that power.

If you are strongly seated in the will of God, then you are to minister in that field. I have come into medicine knowing this and faith has kept me through all the hard times of pediatric oncology.

WC: How does music play into your professional life?

Mikles: It provides a little bit of sanity for me. It gives me time when I do not have to make life or death decisions and I do not have to report to superior officers. It is a time of release to escape my life for a little bit.

WC: Define excellence.

Mikles: I am learning as I get older that excellence is not perfection. I have always put a weight on myself to be perfect at everything and there is no way as humans that we can be perfect. I am learning that being the best that I can be is not being perfect because, apart from Christ, nobody is perfect. Excellence is really allowing yourself to open up to whatever God has for you.

-Jeff McDonald is Managing Editor for the War Cry.