Physicians today, and especially those of us in the demanding fields of dermatology, plastic surgery, facial plastic surgery, and oculoplastic surgery, may feel generally pressed for time. The time we do have, we tend to dedicate to sleep, spending time with our families, and the like. So when a colleague who is an otolaryngologist asked me if I'd be interested to volunteer with a charity he founded, I was hesitant. I went to one of their meetings to learn more about it. I realized it's a wonderful organization, and I wanted to help.
Some physicians may assume they don't have the time needed to participate in charitable medical programs. However, charities need assistance and will accept as much time as you can offer—even a case or two a year makes a difference. Recognize that you don't necessarily have to fly to a third-world country to help people, although that is wonderful too.
Like many of my peers in aesthetics, I have found charitable work to be rewarding, and I encourage those who are not involved to consider their options. I currently work primarily with two charities: Face Forward, a charity that helps victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other kinds of acts of violence, and Hillsides, an orphanage or foster care facility in the Pasadena area. For Face Forward, I help with resurfacing patients who've been burned. Quite a few people unfortunately are victims of acid attacks in different parts of the world. As a dermatologist, my responsibilities typically involve resurfacing the skin, treating horrific scars, filling patients' faces to fix defects, and tattoo removal for people who've been branded through human trafficking. It takes very little of my time to sort through the cases.
Individuals apply to the program to come to the US for treatment. We form a group of doctors to work on each case. The organization and others like it have ample experience to sort out patients' needs and to coordinate care effectively. They schedule the patient visits around our schedules so that we as physicians can focus on providing care. As a medical team, we review each patient's history and medical needs to devise a treatment plan and try to have the foundation in place to begin treatment as soon as the patient arrives in the US.
There are Benefits
In addition to the joy of helping someone else without expecting anything in return, working with charitable organizations may allow you to meet new people with whom you may have otherwise never crossed paths. These individuals may become professional assets or friends. I've met wonderful dentists, therapists, anesthesiologists, oculoplastic surgeons, and trauma surgeons. It's been a wonderful and humbling experience to work together to help people in need.
With a cosmetically-focused practice in Beverly Hills, I do not see trauma victims in my day-to-day practice. Nonetheless, working on extreme cases for charitable outreach has helped me to keep my skills sharp and has provided me knowledge that I can incorporate into my standard patient care. As importantly, I have learned personal lessons. My charitable work has taught me to not sweat the small stuff as much. When things go wrong now, I try not to get frustrated. Instead, I take a step back and think, “My life is amazing compared to some of the things these people have been through.” There is simply no amount of money in the world that can buy you that wonderful feeling you get from helping people; it makes me sleep well at night knowing that I'm helping others.
A Personal Take
I recently completed the second procedure on a patient who agreed to allow me to speak about her story. She was 16 and had accepted an invitation to the prom from her boyfriend. She decided she was going to break up with her boyfriend that night. He found out before the dance. He and a friend took her out into the woods, brutally beat her up, raped and sodomized her, and then proceeded to throw acid on her and bury her alive.
The next morning, hunters happened to see her hand moving in the dirt. They dug her out and took her to a hospital, where she was in a coma for six months. She's had quite extensive surgery already and anticipates more. Thankfully, few of us would come across a case like this in the course of our day-to-day practice. But traumatic events like this unfortunately do occur, and we have the skill sets needed to assist such patients. This patient calls me her “angel.” However, she has given me much more than I could ever give to her.
We've been given a gift to be physicians, and we've trained a long time to be able to do what we do. It's a gift to be able to use our skills on people like this.
Taking the Step
Some physicians may assume they don't have the time needed to participate in charitable medical programs. However, charities need assistance and will accept as much time as you can offer—even a case or two a year makes a difference. Recognize that you don't necessarily have to fly to a third-world country to help people, although that is wonderful, too. People need help right in your area. Before I got involved in Face Forward, I had no idea what a huge human trafficking problem we have here in Los Angeles—just a few miles away from my Beverly Hills office. To get started becoming involved in a charity, think about what causes you are most passionate about. There are charities that I personally feel a lot more passionate about than others.
Some medical professionals have founded charitable organizations and initiatives, and I applaud them. However, I advise most doctors to start out by working with an established charity. There is a lot that goes in to not only starting a charity but also managing the caseloads. Established organizations have the experience and resources needed to assure appropriate and thorough care. For example, I can't think of a single case I've assisted with that hasn't involved some sort of psychiatric component. The patients are carefully screened. We make sure that they are completely out of bad situations so that they're not going to have the surgery and then fall back into that environment again. Rather, we hope they'll be inspired and go on to help other people and pay it forward.
Certainly medical/surgical practice can be frustrating at times. Managing a practice can be incredibly stressful. And each of us has responsibilities we need to meet. However, most of us also feel that we are fortunate to do the work that we do and have the professional satisfaction we experience. Finding time in our local communities to give back is another way to find satisfaction while genuinely helping others in need.