Prescription for Success

By Matt Donnowitz – Upper School Principal

Photo Caption: Dr. Art Cheng acquaints students with the human body using a tactic that is truly out of this world! Donning a space helmet in front of the anatomy and physiology class, he pretends to be a human who has travelled many light-years across vast galaxies to speak to them at the “Galactic Sex Conference”. He pretends his alien audience (students) knows nothing of the human body and helps them discover  God’s order and design of human anatomy and physiology.

What if your child’s pediatrician could also be their anatomy and physiology teacher? At Hill Country Christian School, this can be the reality. Dr. Art Cheng, a father of three Hill Country students, is a pediatrician, teacher, missionary, and guitarist for the faculty band. Recently I spoke with Dr. Cheng about education, faith, and life in general, and how these all come together at Hill Country.

How did you originally get into the medical field?

“Going Pre-Med was a decision I made later in my college career at the University of Illinois. I was an English major, and then a Psychology major, before landing in Cell Biology and Anatomy my junior year and going Pre-Med. 

I had given my life to Christ before my freshman year and felt like I had so much catching up to do with my peers. I hadn’t read the books they read and didn’t know the songs they knew. I picked up Hudson Taylor’s biography and was touched by the extent to which he went to reach the Chinese. He was a doctor who used medicine to get his foot in the door for the gospel. I wondered whether God could open the same doors for me and use me in a way similar to Hudson Taylor.

When I became a Pre-Med student, I knew I wanted to use medicine to share the gospel. I went to medical school at Chicago Medical School, now the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, and focused on primary care because I knew I could be more mobile. At the time, 

I didn’t have a particular mission field or country in mind; 

I just knew I wanted to serve. As I advanced through medical school, Latin America got my attention as a potential mission field.

After medical school, I had my pediatric residency at Christ Hospital in Chicago. I used my one night off a week to take night classes at Wheaton College in theology of missions and church history. And it was there at Wheaton where 

I met Catherine, my wife. (Catherine teaches Lower School technology at Hill Country.) She had just come back from doing missions work around the world and was there for her Master’s Degree.”

Did you plan to do missions work together?

“After we got married, our first mission trips were to an orphanage in Mexico, then to Honduras. We did these short trips to get a feel for whether or not we were ready to do missions full-time as a career.

We were committed to the idea of full-time missions even after expecting our first child and starting a family. Even though going overseas has been put on hold, it’s still not off the table. But at this point in my life with young kids, 

I feel that my mission field is my neighbors, my patients, and my students.”

So in addition to doing missions work and your private practice as a pediatrician, how did you get involved in teaching?

“Before we moved to Austin, I taught at a community college in the Chicago area. We moved to Austin in 2007 and got involved with Hill Country when my son Cody started in 2011. A few years later, I was invited to apply for an opening to teach Anatomy and Physiology. I had to change my schedule at the clinic to make it work, but I’m glad I did. It’s been really good for me because being in full-time practice can really wear you down.”

What’s your favorite thing about teaching high school students?

“The influence. What you say to them really has the potential to stay with them into college and the rest of their lives. I try to make the course relevant to everybody, not just budding Pre-Med students. At Hill Country, I’m able to tell them about my faith and missions work, and even incorporate some of the things I’ve seen on the mission field into the classroom.”

What is one thing you hope students take from your class?

“The one thing I hope they take from class is the awesomeness of God. I guess that’s my wish for anyone graduating from Hill Country. I try to explain the beauty and order of the human body, and take students beyond how things work and get them to see the big picture.”