It’s rewarding to give, and easy to find a way to do so.
One of your New Year’s resolutions could be to become more philanthropic. But how do you define and participate in philanthropy? Physicians have always topped the list of professionals who become deeply committed to charities and causes that are important to us. Opportunities to give are vast.
Early in my career, I learned to pay attention to the areas in which our colleagues donate and, more importantly, how they donate. At the time, I watched with great respect as my senior partner, John Hunkeler, MD, immersed himself in areas of personal interest and charitable giving. He taught me that giving funds is not the only way to scratch the itch doctors have to help others.
TAKE YOUR PICK
I am well aware that many, if not most of you, are charitable. Our ability to contribute evolves as our careers grow. While money is always appreciated in every organization, how else could we be involved? For your consideration:
- Many physicians travel to indigent countries on mission trips. Performing exams and surgeries and teaching local doctors and health-care professionals are critical to getting treatment to those with the least access and potentially the greatest need.
- In your own communities, consider participating in health fairs, examinations in schools, nursing homes, free clinics and homeless shelters.
- Donate time to teach and attend medical students and residents, who have played a role in medical education for many decades.
- Similarly, give grand rounds or lectures to ER departments and hospitalists. This will help other providers deliver potentially safer, more effective and more timely treatment for eye conditions with which they have little training or exposure. It also lowers costs for unnecessary diagnostic testing (MRI for a migraine) and treatments (antibiotics for viral conjunctivitis).
- Though I recognize that it comes with liability, you can donate liquidity-based procedures, such as LASIK and cosmetic surgery, as well as retail items, including glasses, to help organizations at their galas and auctions.
- Donating used but functional medical equipment and supplies is deeply appreciated.
- Work with state and federal programs to ensure the best quality of, and accessibility to, health-care professionals and programs. Creating or participating in social programs that educate the public about preventive care and the importance of treatment and compliance saves lives and costs in every municipality.
BEYOND HEALTH CARE
Not that the medical world offers the only opportunities for philanthropy. I have served on the boards for Rotary International, The Rainbow Center for mentally and physically challenged children and adults, Operation Breakthrough for the children of homeless families, The Gift of Life for organ donation and transplant awareness, The Truman Heartland Foundation for regional directives, and even as a founding board member of a bank.
I even was a nine-term city councilman, mayor pro-tem and police commissioner.
I mention these experiences only to emphasize that there are a wide variety of opportunities to participate in society beyond the realm of medicine. I fear that I am personally enriched and enlightened much more than I contribute, but I know that these efforts continue to make a difference, and this in itself is so rewarding.
For example, I was dumb-founded to learn that our city did not have fluoride in the water system. By working with the state, American Dental Association and Academy of Pediatrics, I was able to get our water supply fluoridated for roughly $100 per month for the entire city, and the state donated the equipment necessary to inject and titrate the fluoride at the water tower.
LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST
Our most important contributions of course occur at home with our families, schools, churches, mosques and synagogues, and it is so easy to participate. I cubby-hole these activities into my “fun time” space and they truly bring so much happiness to a busy and fulfilling career. They also are a critical role-modeling opportunity for our children.
Finally, consider charitable giving in your estate planning. Think locally, nationally and globally. Leave a footprint of which you are proud.
Remember that WE are the fortunate ones. OM