"What does giving back mean to you?" As physicians, this is a question that we often overlook or take for granted. But the answer rings loud and clear to me: Giving is part of who I am and my career as a physician.
But I am not a martyr. Giving is in the fabric of all physicians. The Hippocratic Oath states, "I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings." For me, personally, this mentality began long before taking this sacred oath.
I grew up on a small farm in Southern Indiana and was taught, as a child, the importance of giving and supporting those in need.
Throughout my career, giving back has meant many things to me. As a young physician running a small practice in rural Southwest Georgia, giving back meant helping those whom others would not treat and who could not help themselves. I would see patients in my office who would otherwise have had access to only emergency rooms. I developed relationships with them, learned what they needed, and collected donations for vital items. I approached local organizations, church groups, and volunteers to participate and was constantly inspired by the generosity of others.
As I gained more experience, I began visiting Third World countries. My first experience abroad, in the 1970s, was at a mission hospital in Yemen — at the time the most medically underserved country in the world. I gained a whole new perspective on life and medicine during my time there and was able to connect with people and help them through horrifying situations.
In the 1980s, I was introduced to Physicians with Heart, a partnership between the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation and Heart to Heart International. Physicians with Heart was created to mobilize resources to improve health, provide medical education, and foster the development of family medicine worldwide. I immediately plugged into the group and took two rewarding trips to Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
In Azerbaijan, I worked in an orphanage. I treated young girls who had no stable medical attention and faced lives of struggle and solitude. They were in a constant battle to stay alive. In Uzbekistan, I helped teach local doctors how to treat the unique cases in their distressed country. In both places, I connected with many young doctors — some of whom I still keep in touch with today.
After more than 20 years, I departed from my background as a family physician to join the "corporate side" of medicine. I worried that shift might limit my ability to volunteer my time practicing medicine in communities in need. I was wrong.
At the corporate level of medicine, the opportunities to give are many. I joined LifePoint Hospitals in 2007 as Chief Medical Officer for the hospital system, overseeing physicians in more than 50 nonurban facilities across the country. Over the last four years, not only have I been able to continue personally giving back to underserved communities domestic and abroad, I've also been able to create opportunities for other healthcare providers to respond to the call to give.
For example, when Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake in January 2010, I worked with colleagues to create the LifePoint Disaster Relief Fund, which raised more than $110,000 to help Haitians in need of medical attention, basic living supplies, and support to rebuild their lives. That February, I took my first trip to Haiti with Heart to Heart International to help treat patients in the aftermath of the disaster.
When I returned, I was met with overwhelming support from my LifePoint colleagues and physician peers. Healthcare providers from across the country began offering to participate in helping Haitians in need, and we organized a second trip to the tiny, ravaged nation in May. This experience helped us realize how we could expand our efforts beyond this one disaster, and the LifePoint Disaster Relief Fund will serve as a permanent vehicle to help not only the citizens of Haiti, but other communities in crisis.
The way physicians, nurses, and others across the LifePoint family have banded together to meet the needs of our communities and respond to crises around the world has been an amazing and eye-opening experience for me. It reminds me every day of that fundamental and critical obligation we have to our fellow humans.
As physicians, we are in a unique position to give back to our patients, our communities, and those in need. We are leaders and generally recognized as esteemed members of our communities. We have resources and talents many others do not. With this position comes great responsibility. We must set an example, share our good fortune and expertise, and respond to our calling to give back.
On the most fundamental level, physicians can give back by listening. It is easy to get caught up in patient throughput, schedules, and goals. But something so basic as taking a few extra minutes to really listen can mean so much to our patients and our practices. Empathy is a gift, and we must not forget that.
For new physicians, remember that giving back does not have to be through a financial contribution. Give blood. Serve on local boards. Organize a clothing drive. Donate your old medical books to Third World countries. Volunteer with local nonprofits. The opportunities are endless.
For physicians with more experience, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, visit other countries, and help communities across the world that are not as medically advanced as ours. There are dozens of organizations that coordinate volunteer trips, including Physicians with Heart, The Flying Doctors, Doctors without Borders, and Samaritan's Purse.
I've made it a point to make giving a part of my life, and the rewards I've received and relationships I've built are far more valuable than anything I can do for someone else. It does not matter where you are or what type of medicine you practice. It's an attitude. If we all weave giving into our lives, we are responding to our call as physicians in a fundamental and profound way.
I am grateful for being a physician. And I am grateful for the responsibilities that come with it.
Lanny R. Copeland, M.D. is chief medical officer for LifePoint Hospitals. A practicing family physician for 20 years before transitioning to positions at health systems, Dr. Copeland has served as Chairman/President for the American Academy of Family Physicians and President of the American Board of Family Medicine.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Physicians Practice.
By Ryan Long
From an early age, I was taught that giving back to others is one of the greatest joys in life. My mother has always espoused that your life's work should have significant impact on the lives of others. It amazes me how giving back becomes contagious. One act of giving inspires others to do the same.
I remember when I was little, my brother and I collected our old toys and clothes and donated them to a women's shelter. As I grew, more opportunities to give back became available. I started giving blood every few months and volunteered at the Salvation Army in college. After graduation, I volunteered at a soup kitchen and tutored a man in math to help him get his GED. The day he passed the test and received his GED is still one of my proudest moments.
Last year, I became involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. If you're not familiar with the organization, it takes at-risk children and matches them with a mentor in their area. Then the "Big" and the "Little" get together every couple of weeks to do activities, talk, and build a positive relationship to help the child reach his or her potential.
Spending time with my little sister has become one of my favorite things to do. She and I have even talked about ways that we can give back in the community and are planning on volunteering at a local animal shelter sometime this summer.
I'm thankful that my parents passed the desire to help others onto me and I'm excited to pass it onto my little sister. When I was first looking for a new volunteer opportunity, I was surprised that some places said they didn't need any help. Keep looking, though, because there are many that do.
Here are three ways to give back to your community:
Soup kitchens / food pantries
They always need donations and usually need people to help organize the food or serve it.
Even if you’re not a member, you can still find out about volunteer opportunities that way.
Friends and family
Many times, someone you know knows someone or some place that is looking for volunteers or are a part of an organization that needs help.
Ryan Long began working with Vector in 2003 after graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree from Austin College in Sherman, TX. She also earned an Associate’s Degree from Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, TX. Ryan has held a variety of positions with Vector including FSM, District Manager, Campus Recruiting Manager, and Public Relations Manager.
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Category: Giving Back, Skills For Life