Working in the medical profession is difficult and demanding work. It is remarkable to find a man like Dr. Phil Stillman who not only works hard at his profession, but also takes the time to get to know his patients, prays for them, and uses his off hours and vacation time for medical mission and other volunteer work.
What motivates Dr. Stillman, an accomplished anesthesiologist? He says he owes it to his relationship with Jesus Christ. He views his work in medicine as his ministry.
Childhood and Coming to Faith
Stillman was not always a follower of Christ. He was raised in Saratoga in a non-Christian home. But as he grew up, he began to have questions about faith. He says,
I was a teenager in the 1970s — pretty turbulent times with everybody questioning everything, especially the Vietnam War. I didn’t know my purpose in life. I was thinking about the war, possibly dying and what would happen after I died. I really was concerned about that and even lost sleep over it.
Stillman began to research faith and religion on his own, reading several books including Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and the Bible. He also attended a Bible study and found a friend who was willing to answer his questions about Christian faith. But he needed more evidence to see if Christianity is true. After reading several books, including Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, Stillman felt confident in the evidence for Christianity. He says,
The Bible stories have all been supported both by archeology and history. And the Scriptures have survived over 3 thousand years intact confirmed by the Isaiah scrolls at Qumran and many other documents. It’s absolutely a miracle.
After much research and contemplation, Stillman accepted Christ into his life at a Billy Graham crusade when he was 18 years old.
School and Career
After high school, Stillman went on to earn his BA at UC San Diego and then his MD at UC San Francisco. Throughout school, he helped lead various Christian fellowship groups. His faith continued to grow. He says,
It was a very turbulent time. If you were a Christian at UCSF, you had to stand up for your faith because there were people that would shout you down, even in class. We used to spend hours discussing Christianity. It was a great challenge. But it was also a lot of fun.
The year Stillman graduated, he also got married. And his wife became pregnant soon after. He felt he needed to take a year off before starting his residency, so he spent the next year at New College Berkeley earning a Master’s in Christian Studies. He also completed a Master’s in Public Health degree at UC Berkeley.
After graduation, he entered into family practice but soon found he was unhappy in the specialty. After putting four years of work, he decided it was time to make a change. He took up residency in anesthesia and loved it.
Stillman’s faith is sometimes questioned by his medical colleagues. He comments,
Have they challenged what I believe? Yes. Have I had doubts because of them? No, not at all. They just don’t get it. To me, a life in Christ is pure joy, it really is, and I’m just so happy to be a Christian. People sometimes say that I’m crazy, but so be it. That’s just the way it is.
More than a Doctor
Today, Stillman is an anesthesiologist working at El Camino Hospital. He has worked in the specialty for over 25 years. While working as an anesthesiologist, he additionally got involved in several entrepreneurial projects, including marketing and selling his own products to help anesthesiologists study for their oral board exam. For a short time, he also took on the role of Chief Medical Officer at a San Jose company called Physician Access.
Stillman devotes a big portion of his time to volunteer projects. He helped found and develop Redding Christian School when his children were young. He participates in the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA), and he serves on the board of New College Berkeley.
Medical Missions Work
He often uses his vacation time to volunteer for medical missions work overseas. His first mission trip was to Guatemala during the summer after his first year of medical school. He says about the experience, “It was a great time. Every day was a new experience. I really got the bug for missions work on that trip.”
A few years later, Stillman was asked to go on another trip to Guatemala. He says,
I just get this call out of the blue from this guy I don’t know in Bakersfield, and he said, “We’re going to Guatemala, do you want to come?” I replied, “Yes.’” He was surprised. It turns out they were desperate for an anesthesiologist, and he was just cold calling people and I was the second person he called. It was like God just engineered the whole thing.
Stillman went on the trip and had a wonderful time. He and his wife have been on several more mission trips to Guatemala and Ethiopia.
Man of Prayer and Joy
Stillman tries to take time each day to pray for every one of his patients and personally minister to those he can. He has adopted John 10:10 as a verse of Scripture by which he lives: “I have come that they may have life and have it in full.” Stillman remarks,
My life has certainly been abundant. It’s been a lot of risk taking, a lot of failures but with tremendous abundance and joy. I’m very much like C. S. Lewis in that sometimes I’m just surprised by joy. I’m so glad that I chose Jesus Christ.
In the video below, Stillman describes how he sees his work as his ministry.