Charles Branch Sr. has dedicated much of his life to the study of the human brain — its hemispheres, lobes, folds and synapses.
But his mind and soul belong to God.
Branch, an elder of the MacArthur Park Church of Christ in San Antonio, retired in 2004 after a 40-year career in academic and neurosurgical practice. He was a clinical associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
The Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas in Dallas established an award to honor Branch. The Charles L. Branch Brain Health Award will recognize annually a person who has made an extraordinary contribution to the field of neuroscience.
Branch married Sylvia Boswell of Lakeland, Fla., in 1953. They raised four sons and a daughter, all active Christians. Charles Jr., married to Lesa Williams, is chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Wake Forest University. Warren, married to Melissa Weatherred, is a dentist in San Antonio. Daniel, married to Stacey Salvino, is a Texas state legislator and attorney. Alfred, married to Judy Lovejoy, is president of Moriah Real Estate Company in Midland, Texas. Cynthia, married to Dr. Donald Adams, is an educator and mother of six children. The Branches have 18 grandchildren.
Since 1994 Charles Branch has been active in medical missions, traveling regularly to Nigeria, Haiti and Guyana. He also enjoys ranching, golf and sailing.
How has your practice of medicine related to your Christian faith?
In 1946 I began pre-med training at David Lipscomb College and met several faculty role models including Batsell Barrett Baxter, J.P. Sanders, Willard Collins, Ira North, Earl West, B.C. Goodpasture and Athen Clay Pullias.
They had risen to the height of education in their respective fields and had remained faithful Christians. They were excellent Bible scholars, teachers and ministers. Their examples helped me to develop a Christian worldview that the great, creative God has revealed himself to us through his word and through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This worldview also includes the strong belief that the best definition of higher education is a search for truth — and God is the source of all truth.
I believe that Christians have nothing to fear from scientific discovery.
The true scientist has no reason to scorn anyone with Christian faith. This view only increased during the 40 years that I practiced neurological surgery.
Why did you choose neurosurgery?
While working on a degree in psychology in my pre-med years at Vanderbilt University, I developed an interest in the function of the brain and nervous system. In my medical school years at Vanderbilt, I followed this interest in what was going on in the department of neurosurgery. Later I studied under and practiced with Theodore Rassmussen of the University of Chicago and world-famous neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield at the Montreal Neurological Institute for 15 years.
What role has your Christian faith played in your medical practice?
My Christian faith always has played a very important role in my life and medical practice. I always considered that my first priority was being a disciple of Jesus Christ, followed by my family and then being a surgeon.
I tried to treat patients as I would want to be treated. I always took time to listen carefully to their personal and medical history and to discuss my diagnostic recommendations or surgical intervention with them in a way they could understand or ask questions.
I always tried to stay on the cutting edge of my profession and to deliver the best treatment that was possible. Over the years I developed a philosophy that I would always tell the truth, but in words that would not be frightening or disturbing. I never used the words “brain cancer,” and I never predicted how long a patient had to live.
How did you and your wife raise five faithful children while going through the rigors of your medical career?
Sylvia and I grew up in Christian homes that, for two or three generations, had been active leaders in the Lord’s church. We decided to raise our family in the same way. We believed that if, in the early formative years, we could help establish principles of love and respect for God and his teachings, obedience and respect for the authority of parents and adults, then they would carry this training into their later life.
We also tried to instill a good work ethic in our children and encouraged them to always be dependable by doing their best — no matter what the task.
Living in Canada during part of my training, we were in a mission field, and our children learned the importance of the church. Our children knocked doors on campaigns, stuffed letters to raise funds for a building, took neighbors to Vacation Bible School and invited visitors into our home. We insisted that they attend Christian universities and promised to put them through graduate school at a university of their choice.
Sylvia also read daily Bible stories to the children, and we always tried to be very active in the church as a family, making its activities and worship a priority.
What appeals to you in doing medical mission work in Haiti and Nigeria?
Medical missionary work appeals to me because I feel that I am personally carrying out the Lord’s Great Commission and the great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In Nigeria, we always began the day with a devotional in the outpatient waiting room in the hospital where many patients come to wait to be seen by the doctors. We, as medical missionaries, gave sermons. Before patients were given sedation, the surgeon led a prayer with the team and the patient. At night we made rounds, and patients often showed their appreciation by singing to us.
The trips to Guyana and Haiti included teaching and preaching along with medical clinics. This type of mission work is a blessing both for the doctor and the patient. It is doing what the Lord has asked us to do.
What advice would you give to young Christian physicians?
I would remind them that they are receiving or have received one of the best medical educations offered in the history of mankind. And the Bible teaches that “to whom much is given much is required.”
Therefore, plan to spend some time in medical mission work to a Third World country. If you go once, you will go again.
I advise every young Christian physician to develop a strong Christian world view. I believe that they should always carry out their medical practice as a Christian and never allow their practice to prevent them from regular attendance and active leadership in the Lord’s church.