“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”1

It seemed that the dismissal bell rang louder that day as my classmates and I celebrated the end of another school year. As I completed my junior year at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, the freedom of summer lay ahead. I envisioned plans for relaxation and unwinding from a strenuous academic year. Little did I realize as these first days of my summer unfolded in 1985, I was about to embark on a special journey that would span the next 40 years.

At a Jesuit high school, one of the main teaching mottos revolves around “becoming a man for others.” In her article for America magazine, associate editor Molly Cahill describes the evolution of this motto, “Father Pedro Arrupe was the superior general of the Society of Jesus when he gave his 1973 address that popularized the term that would eventually become Jesuit canon. Speaking to graduates of Jesuit schools in Europe, he suggested that the Society’s mission in education should respond to the ‘signs of the times’ and seek God’s justice on earth. The portrait of a Jesuit school alumnus was laid out; he should be a “man for others.”2 Relevant to my high school experience, this translated to a mandated 100 hours of community service prior to graduation for me to be considered a “man for others.”

To complete this requirement, students could choose one of many options such as after school tutoring for at risk grammar school students, trips abroad to build infrastructure in Central America or one of a variety of summer camps for special need campers. I chose to serve as a counselor at a week-long overnight summer camp for children with muscular dystrophy. I worked with a 13-year-old camper, Damian, and we bonded over laughs and shared experiences that week. I returned to the muscular dystrophy camp for the next four summers to continue my service to Damian and these campers. What stuck out to me was his comment that this was his chance to be normal, as every camper was “like him.” People did not stare at him and his wheelchair as there was an armada of wheelchairs at camp transporting campers of all ages, races, and sizes.

During that first summer, I met an experienced staff member at this muscular dystrophy camp. Tony was a co-director for another special needs camp for children with pulmonary disorders, Camp Pelican. He invited me to attend his pulmonary camp to work with these special campers. Camp Pelican originally was a camp for children with cystic fibrosis (CF) prior to changing infection control recommendations. Camp Pelican has since evolved to include campers with other pulmonary disorders such as moderate to severe asthma, congenital pulmonary disorders and even ventilator dependent campers.

In 1985, I was a 17-year-old counselor to three campers ranging from 14-15 years old at Camp Pelican. Two of my three assigned campers had CF as their qualifying pulmonary disorder. At camp orientation, I was shocked to learn that the life expectancy of a patient with CF was 17 years old (compared to today’s life expectancy in the 50s with some patients surviving into their 80s).3 This was unsettling to think that these teenagers only a few years younger than me, would not experience a full life. It is often noted that teenagers do not recognize their own mortality, but on that day, I recognized the predicted early mortality of others. Great times were had by all, and the week was enjoyed by campers and staff. Camp was exactly what it should have been for these medically needy teenagers—it was FUN! As the week came to an end, they asked me if I was going to come back to camp next year and be their counselor again. Of course, I replied “Yes” without hesitation. Thirty-nine years later, I still find myself saying “Yes, I am coming to camp.” I often reflect on this first week with Bobby, Kevin, and Buddy and how working with them and understanding their medical and psychosocial challenges impacted my eventual career choice to become a physician.

My 40-year involvement with Camp Pelican has been life altering. During this time, I graduated from high school, undergraduate, and graduate school. During these educational years, I always found a way to incorporate attending camp and with Tulane Medical School’s blessing, I was also able to make this a rotation during my medical school and residency training. Over the years, I have had numerous life changing experiences and met amazing campers and staff. The camp slogan, “Smiles and Friends Last Forever,” is part of my life’s journey and I am thankful for all the experiences from my involvement with Camp Pelican. I have even had the pleasure of sharing these experiences with two of my siblings and both of my sons who have attended camp with me.

I share this month’s column with SGIM members for two reasons: first, find something meaningful to you and dedicate yourself to it, and second, be inspired as well as inspiring as you “become a man (or woman) for others.”

We live in a hectic and chaotic world that pulls us in different directions daily. We are so pressed for time focusing on the tasks we “have to do” that we forget doing the things that we “want to do.” These “want to do” things are the stabilizers that help us survive the difficult times. You may not devote 40 years to a specific activity or organization, but extended involvement in a particular endeavor allows you to evolve and become a better person. This sustained involvement also slows the chaos around you when you dedicate the time to your “want to dos.” We should make the time for our “want to dos.”

In 1973, Father Pedro Arrupe said “All of us would like to be good to others, and most of us would be relatively good in a good world. What is difficult is to be good in an evil world, where the egoism of others and the egoism built into the institutions of society attack us and threaten to annihilate us.”4 There are many challenges that our patients and colleagues experience. For many, they may not consider their world to be a “good world.” As physicians in today’s world, SGIM members can be “men and women for others” as we treat and address our patients’ physical and mental concerns. We should strive to do good in the world of today. Noted anthropologist and humanitarian, Margaret Mead motivates us and inspires us when she says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”5 SGIM has committed members that continue to change the world around them, and it is critical that we continue to do so.

As a profession, medicine is often viewed as a calling to serve others. In reviewing my 40-year journey, my involvement in Camp Pelican and my career in medicine was a calling that helps me serve others and along the way to become a “man of others.”

Will you become a “man or woman for others”?

This month, the SGIM Forum lead article by fourth-year medical student Cory Bhowmik describes the current state of health care in the carceral system and how SGIM members can and should be involved in education and advocacy initiatives to improve this system. We should ensure that all patients who need health care have opportunities to receive the care they need. SGIM President Dr. Bussey-Jones updates SGIM members on the evolution of her thought process as SGIM Council considers uncontested elections as a potential future for the organization. She provides the information SGIM Executive leaders obtained and how SGIM members are being involved in these discussions. SGIM CEO Dr. Bass reflects with SGIM Health Policy Chair Dr. Fischer on the priorities and successes of the Health Policy Committee over the past year. Dr. Fischer also references the presentation of the John Goodson Leadership in Health Policy Scholarship, in recognition of Dr. Goodson’s exceptional contributions to SGIM’s advocacy efforts, to the initial recipient at the 2024 Annual Meeting. The Forum editors offer two articles related to coding: in the first article, Dr. Pride and colleagues describe six underutilized billable counseling codes that can be utilized during Medicare and Medicare advantage codes to maximize billing; in the second article, Dr. Sloan and colleagues provide an in-depth review of one of these codes, G2211 and highlights when and how this code can be used via illustrative examples. The Forum anticipates that these articles will help increase revenue and capture workload for SGIM members for work that they are already doing. Finally, Dr. Whiteside and co-authors communicate their experiences in utilizing a geriatric consult experience to assist trainees in becoming better consultants and improve their geriatric learning experiences while providing comprehensive geriatric care.

References

  1. Anderson S. The 25 greatest volunteer quotes to uplift and inspire your team. Golden Volunteer. https://blog.goldenvolunteer.com/volunteer-quotes/. Accessed May 15, 2024.
  2. Cahill M. Men for others: How the famous Jesuit maxim evolved—and what it means to Gen Z. America. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2024/02/15/men-others-jesuit-schools-pedro-arrupe-247315. Published February 15, 2024. Accessed May 15, 2024.
  3. Klingsberg RC, Landry M. (2016). Cystic Fibrosis. In: Pilapil M., DeLaet D, Kuo A, et al. (eds). Care of Adults with Chronic Childhood Conditions. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-43827-6_8.
  4. Arrupe Fr. Pedro, SJ. Men for others. Portal to Jesuit Studies. https://jesuitportal.bc.edu/research/documents/1973_arrupemenforothers/. Accessed May 15, 2024.
  5. Mead M. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Quote Investigator. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/11/12/change-world/. Date of Quote Unknown. Thread published November 12, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2024.

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