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Alumni Profile in Excellence: Lynn Hughes Practices a Passion for People

October 25, 2008

After Lynn Hughes graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1961 with degrees in English and philosophy, the path to becoming a doctor seemed difficult. He began to explore his career options when he received a draft notice for the war in Vietnam.

"My draft number was real low and Vietnam was cranking up, and I didn't want to go over as a grunt," he said. "With my education, I didn't think that was the place for me to be, and I didn't know exactly what I should do with my draft notice."

With guidance from his father, a 1935 OBU alumnus and the main source of encouragement for Hughes, he decided to pursue a master's degree in theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He traveled with a seminary group to the Bahamas to do Vacation Bible School and mission work, but realized he could not deny his calling to medicine any longer.

"When I got back, I said, 'You know, I'm really meant to be a doctor,'" Hughes said.

Hughes worked to meet the qualifications and was accepted into the Oklahoma School of Medicine. Finally pursuing his dream of working in the medical field, Hughes received a variety of opportunities, giving him a wide range of training that would eventually assist him in his practice.

Hughes encountered an opportunity to go to Vietnam with the Oklahoma State Department. He performed amputations and insert chest tubes, attending to wounded soldiers.

"I spent two-and-a-half months there and was able to travel by helicopter to many locations across Vietnam to take care of civilian casualties," he said. "When I returned I had almost done more surgery than I witnessed during the two-month surgical rotation I did in medical school."

Following his study at the Oklahoma School of Medicine, Hughes accepted a U.S. Air Force post as a flight surgeon for the C-130 squadron, and increased his travel resume by working with the squadron in locations across Europe. The more he traveled and experienced foreign cultures, Hughes felt led to his original passion of international medical missions.

After Hughes finished his doctorate at Duke University, focusing on head and neck surgery, he established a private practice in Concord, N.C., and immediately sought to start medical work in a third-world country.

"I've learned that people are the same the world around," he said. "They have the same problems and the same needs. I wanted to do some mission work once we got established in Concord.

"There is a Mennonite hospital called Clinica Christiana in San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic, near the Haitian border," he said. "That is where I started going 18 years ago, and we have gone every year but one, spending 10 to 14 days there just doing volunteer surgery."

After his first trip, Hughes knew he would need to learn Spanish to provide optimal assistance to the Dominicans. By living with Spanish-speaking families and taking Spanish courses, he became fluent enough to understand and take care of patients.

As he continued to annually visit Clinica Christiana, he was encouraged by the growth of the hospital and its resources, including the much needed follow-up doctors provided the patients once he left.

"They have a surgeon there, and they also have a dentist available whenever the doctors who are doing volunteer work are not there," he said. "They can take care of bleeding problems, rather than having a patient die because no one is there to follow up."

While in the Dominican Republic, Hughes eagerly looks for opportunities to talk to patients about their faith and continues to look for new ways to serve the Dominican people. Apart from the hospital, Hughes and the primary care doctors who go with him also travel to schools in the area, where they tend to patients who walk for miles to see the doctors.

"Last year we had 45 we took with us and did over 80 surgeries," he said. "The patients come all at one time, and we work through them as the day goes on. We use them to spread the word to others about why we're there. The groups that go into the woods also speak to the people through the interpreter about what our purpose is, and to ask if they need any help or if they have any questions about our faith."

Hughes looks to integrate his mission mindset into his work in North Carolina as well.

"In the private practice it is always good to - and I like what Paul recommends - pray without ceasing," he said. "And that means that whenever I see that things are perplexed, I say a prayer right there asking, 'Where do I go with this patient?' or 'What needs to happened with this patient who is confused?'"

Hughes often reflects on the influence and encouragement he received at OBU to continue to pursue his passion and be open to the opportunities he comes across during his career.

"The influence for me was mainly Dr. (Gregory) Prichard, who taught me to be more open and to be looking closely at the world through all of my traveling experiences," he said.

His love for traveling has been contagious among his family, including his wife, Shelia, daughters Shannon and Heather, and step-son Brian. The travel has provided a variety of cross-cultural experiences in locations like China, Tibet, Australia and Tahiti.

It is his love for medicine, however, that has been the most evident in Hughes' life. He hopes to convey that passion in his book, "Lame Science, Blind Religion," pointing out the interworking of science and theology.

"My book comes from a quote that Einstein created, that science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind," he said. "A scientist who denies God and that he has anything to do with his research is missing out on major things that he could be doing if he was doing it with God."

No matter if Hughes is in North Carolina, the Dominican Republic or Vietnam, his passion for medical missions lives on as he continues to make a difference in his patients' lives around the world.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellece recipients.