Making Your Life Richer Through Volunteering
Writing Competition 2019
“You’re studying what? Podiatry? I could never work with kids.”
I immediately correct them and then answer their follow-up question,
“why would you want to work with feet?”
Even the individuals who have heard of podiatrists are oblivious to the scope of responsibility and education of foot and ankle specialists. Unfortunately, this interaction is a microcosm of the social perception of podiatric medicine and epitomizes the issues that our profession is facing currently. We have a shortage of applicants, lack of parity and scope of practice in some states or healthcare systems, legislative obstacles that would undercut reimbursements, and so on. What if the 2,353 podiatric medical students enrolled right now volunteered their time and invested in their communities and medical missions? What if 2,353 podiatric medical students took a few hours to educate and mentor students in their community? As Gandhi has said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is no other way of making changes for our profession other than being proactive in our communities and having conversations. Even if the community service has nothing to do with podiatric medicine, it is the community involvement that opens the platform for educating and opens doors for further conversation.
Our organization, Christian Podiatric Student Association, volunteers with larger organizations who provide health screenings and treatment. During these health screenings and our monthly visit to Jeff Hope, a medical outreach program for the homeless residents of Philadelphia, we volunteer with students from other professions (Medical, Pharmacy, Nursing, Dental, etc.). We have developed relationships and created a better understanding of the professional relationships we expect to cultivate in the future. At the shelter, some patients we were treating have never seen or even heard of podiatrists. Many students in secondary education have also never heard of podiatrists unless treated by one previously. Through volunteering and education, podiatric medical students could change the individual perception of podiatrists and eventually the societal perception; working towards addressing the many issues our profession faces today.
There are no studies on podiatrists volunteering and the return on investments they will be making for the profession. However, there is anecdotal evidence of the benefits of volunteering from podiatrists and healthcare providers. Even if there are some financial incentives to bring more awareness to one’s practice or create networking opportunities, podiatric medical students could also stand to benefit from volunteering. Dr. James McGuire also volunteers his time with Christian Podiatric Student Association and oversees the students at Jeff Hope. He had a few pearls of wisdom to share. “Although we are in the medical field where we treat patients, we don’t really get to spend time with them. Here, [at Jeff Hope] we do.” Spending time with patients without the clinical construct of 10 minutes per patient and trying to figure out what is covered by their insurance (to dictate the treatment) opens up lines of communication and allows the healthcare provider to access the intimate aspect of medicine. He is also encouraged when he sees the students having fundraisers and shoe drives to give back to the community.
“Many podiatrists have given services without payment due to insurance or if they [patients] can’t afford it. We [when volunteering] don’t worry about getting anything in return. Most people in medicine would probably take care of others regardless of payment; volunteering makes your life richer; you don’t need to do things for money – you can do things because it’s the right thing to do.”
During the interview, Dr. McGuire also emphasized skills one could hone while treating people with relatively limited resources. “The facilities you volunteer at encourage you to improvise and be innovative.” Whether it is makeshift pads or splints, simply taping, or maybe even just listening, one can learn to be creative and empathetic. Volunteering also assists students by preventing burn-out. Studies have been shown that students by the second year of medical programs are “burned out”. A better description would be exhausted and jaded. However, many physicians and student doctors have attested that volunteering made them “fall in love with medicine again.” A couple of hours of volunteering in the community or even doing medical mission trips could really breathe life into a student or even a practitioner who is burning out. Although it may seem that time for oneself or vacation would be as beneficial, feeling appreciated and even enjoying the humanistic aspect of medicine can help remind people why they chose to practice medicine in the first place.
Dr. Rudolf Virchow, who many consider the father of pathology, always believed in the social responsibilities of physicians and emphasized,
“Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing but medicine on a large scale. The physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them.”
Our healthcare system’s attitude towards medicine may have changed over the course of many centuries of research, education, and technology. Profits and performance are valued while compassion and ethics are on the backburner. However, it does not change the fact that practicing medicine is an intimate human interaction. One is palpating someone, listening to a heartbeat, and even asking intimate questions about a patient’s personal life. Medicine is not just diagnosing and writing a prescription. It is looking at the condition of human health as a whole. A patient may be noncompliant because they must work on their feet. A patient may be homeless due to a health complication and lack health insurance – the number one reason for bankruptcy in the United States. The physician needs to be aware of these issues so they can advocate for the patient. A common example of physicians advocating for patients is convincing insurance companies to cover certain services or medications. It is tedious and frustrating, but physicians do it to demand the best outcome for their patients. Volunteering through Jeff Hope and other organizations has really helped develop our maturity and compassion. Many of us have been blessed to not have been homeless or suffered from a debilitating disease. However, it is our medical and social responsibility to help those in need and volunteering has provided opportunities to understand their whole life story. Only through understanding can we as physicians truly advocate, and through advocating for our patients, could we truly treat them.
The field of medicine is one of the most compassionate endeavors one can embark on. It is many years of schooling with a continual investment of time and energy in order to learn, all the while helping others. As Dr. Rudolf Virchow is also quoted to have said, “Medical education does not exist to provide student(s) with a way of making a living, but to ensure the health of the community.”
We identify with this quote and hope we continually strive to become the podiatric physicians we have always aspired to be by being humble and passionate, continually contributing back to our community, our beloved institution, and the field of podiatric medicine.
by Husang David Lee, Molly Ichikawa, Alex Pilkinton, and Delaney Wickramage
School: Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine
Student Org: Christian Podiatric Student Association
1st Annual Hallux Magazine Writing Competition – 2019
Hallux Magazine Writing Competition – Finalist
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