Volunteerism can improve perspectives

From the President

Dirk Elston

Dr. Elston served as the Academy's president from March 5, 2013 until March 25, 2014.

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It’s an interesting time to be a dermatologist. In the last few months you’ve heard a lot, from me and from others, that may alarm you — and if you haven’t, I encourage you to get online and read about some of the pressing issues that face our specialty. Member to Member, our official biweekly e-newsletter, is running a series about them; check it out every other Friday and online. You’ve also been reading about these issues in Dermatology World; last month’s cover story explored the changing reimbursement landscape, while this month’s addresses concerns about how our profession is perceived by our colleagues in medicine. More about that in a moment.

First, though, think about why you chose to become a dermatologist. Was it so you could obsess about how much Medicare would pay for a particular procedure? Was it so you could become expert at medication preauthorization? Or did you, like me, become a physician to make a difference in people’s lives? As dermatologists, we have the daily satisfactions of providing immediate relief to patients, of being able to deliver results they can see and appreciate, and each melanoma identified early is a life saved.

We make a difference each day when we go to work, whether we’re advising a patient with refractory urticaria, excising a skin cancer, identifying a contact allergen, or diagnosing melanoma on a biopsy slide. But it’s easy to get so caught up in the headaches of running a practice that we forget how important our day-to-day work is to each patient. Step back for just a moment and examine how many lives you impact each day. It’s a good feeling. Practicing efficient, cost-effective medicine can help preserve patient access to our specialty at a time when every specialty has to prove its value.

There are other ways of making a difference that also reinforce our identity as physicians and healers — small acts of kindness that can have a huge impact. Helping to guide a patient with limited resources toward the most cost-effective treatment may determine what they can afford to eat for the next month. Taking a moment to listen and allay the fear and anxiety that surrounds a cancer diagnosis. Expressing empathy for the stress of a child with refractory eczema who can’t sleep at night. People who take advantage of the many small opportunities to impact people’s lives are happier at work; and those who are happy at work are more highly regarded by their patients. It’s an upward spiral.

Volunteerism is another great way to make a difference in the community. Whether it is medical work, Camp Discovery, or coaching little league, volunteering makes a difference in your own life as well as the lives of those you help. One of my greatest joys is volunteer teaching, and acting as a volunteer attending. In addition to providing care to an underserved population, it helps me connect to a new generation of physicians full of eagerness and excitement about dermatology. Their enthusiasm rubs off. Finding a meaningful way to contribute gives one a better perspective on what it all means. Many volunteer activities provide an opportunity to reconnect with old friends while accomplishing something worthwhile. It energizes you and the positive energy filters back into your own practice. But don’t take my word for it. I invited some of our colleagues to explain why they volunteer; see what they said on the next page.

Returning to the perception question addressed on this month’s cover: When we engage in activities that nourish our souls, we radiate a more positive image to our patients, our colleagues, and our families. Our good works don’t just change our perspectives — they can also help change the perspectives of those around us. In a time when those perspectives matter more and more, that is no small added bonus.

Wondering how to get started, or looking for something new? The Academy has plenty of options for you; visit www.aad.org/members/volunteer-and-mentor-opportunities to learn more. [pagebreak]

Why do dermatologists volunteer?

“Volunteering at Camp Discovery vaccinates me. It reminds me that patients with skin diseases are real suffering people. It renews my commitment to really care about my patients and try harder to really help them.”
“It’s easy to give money, but it’s more rewarding to me to give time and love.”

— Mark Dahl, MD

“The Academy’s teledermatology program, AccessDerm, is a convenient and rewarding way to serve America’s vulnerable citizens.”

— William James, MD

“Volunteering my time to run the dermatology service in Botswana has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. Not only do I get to provide care to a population with great need, but I also mentor young residents in their rotation there through the AAD Resident International Grant. The participating residents often describe this rotation as an incredibly enriching experience that has a profound effect on their dermatology careers and lives in general. It is my hope that I am able to even slightly influence this next generation to continue and expand a culture of volunteerism within our specialty.”

— Carrie Kovarik, MD

“Camp Discovery offers physician volunteers many ways to interact with and influence the lives of children with chronic skin disorders. In addition to helping with the campers’ medical needs, dermatologists have helped with arts and crafts activities, led bike hikes, taught harmonica lessons, or simply served as a friend and surrogate parent. The rewards of service are countless and most of us have found our own lives to be enriched far more than we can ever hope to give back to camp.”

— Howard Pride, MD

“For me volunteerism is a natural part of medical practice and something that gives one great satisfaction...I feel very blessed that I am able to do so and help communities with the training I have been lucky to receive as a dermatologist. Another great part about volunteering is getting medical students, residents, and fellow colleagues involved to serve and get involved with community service.”

— Aisha Sethi, MD

“Dermatologists and other physicians are some of the most fortunate people in the world. It is a privilege and honor to do the work we do. I think giving something back is a duty we all have.”

— Paul Storrs, MD

“I have volunteered at Camp Discovery for 14 years. It has definitely made me a better pediatric dermatologist. Having performed daily skin care on children with severe ichthyoses, atopic dermatitis, and epidermolysis bullosa, I have practical skills that you do not get from seeing patients in clinic. But what the experience best provides is an insight and empathy into what the daily lives of these children are like, their struggles with pain and the amount of time involved to care for their skin. But the best part is seeing the joy and happiness of the kids, just being kids. It is the smiles, laughter, and giggles that make Camp such a special place.

I have volunteered internationally as well, having been to Tanzania at the Regional Dermatology Training Center and also in Iquitos, Peru with Penn State’s Global Health Scholars Program. It is a completely different experience than Camp. Volunteering abroad is a means of giving back and to see the world beyond the walls of an academic medical center. I am extremely blessed to live in a resource rich country with excellent training. Teaching abroad, seeing and helping patients with the greatest need with limited resources, is a grounding and humbling experience.”

— Andrea Zaenglein, MD 



Why do dermatologists volunteer?
Why do dermatologists volunteer?