Religious institutions and organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have long facilitated physicians’ provision of philanthropic medical care and other services in areas impacted by disease, poverty and war.
The providers come from myriad backgrounds: They are anesthesiologists, surgeons, OB/GYNs, psychiatrists and practitioners from virtually every other field. They treat patients in desperate circumstances and provide other volunteer services, while also drawing attention to large-scale tragedies resulting from political upheaval, natural disasters or other factors. In recent decades, estimates of physicians who provide some form of charitable care have ranged from approximately two-thirds to well over three-quarters. Here are the stories of three physicians who have made providing medical care and other assistance to underserved groups at home and abroad a part of their lives.
Philip Hall, MD: A Passion to Help
A private practice anesthesiologist in Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Hall has spent more than three decades preparing patients for surgery and working to relieve their pain through modern medicine. The past several years, he has felt moved to provide similar care to people living in sometimes primitive and often dangerous environments.
Dr. Hall’s journey with philanthropic care began with a mission trip to Guatemala eight years ago — an experience that sparked a passion for providing medical care to underserved populations.
“I enjoyed the experience in Guatemala and began to think about doing more of that type of work and to do research online to find organizations that might be able to provide longer-term placement,” he says. “Doctors Without Borders appealed to me because of their philosophy and widespread involvement in different areas of the world.”
Established in France in 1971, Doctors Without Borders today is an international organization that provides assistance to people in distressed regions. Through his affiliation with the organization, Dr. Hall has cared for patients in Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria. At times, he has administered anesthesia as bombs were falling behind him.
“In Syria, I got used to hearing the rockets every day ...,” he says. “The area where we were working was in great turmoil.”
However, Dr. Hall is not deterred by the danger of some areas nor the limited resources of others. He continues to travel to Guatemala annually, as well as with Doctors Without Borders a few times a year for several weeks at a time.
“Some of the [medical] skill that we take for granted in this country is so precious and in short supply in many areas of the world,” he says. “There are untold opportunities to impact people’s lives by providing care in some of these areas, and not just the ones that are in conflict.”
James Afful Clarke, DO, MBChB, MPH: Restoring Sight
When Dr. Clarke, a Ghanaian physician originally trained as a general surgeon, spent time working in a remote West African hospital, the lack of ophthalmologic services alarmed him.
“I encountered many people with eye problems who had no access to eye care due to the unavailability of an eye clinic,” Dr. Clarke says. “With the realization that helping to improve the eyesight of the visually impaired could also improve the quality of their lives and that of their families, I enrolled in an ophthalmology program.”
Today, he runs Crystal Eye Clinic, a private eye care facility in the Accra region of Ghana. He also partners with Unite For Sight, a 501(c)(3) organization based in New Haven, Connecticut, to provide outreach eye care services in five of Ghana’s 10 regions.
The outreach team provides glasses to children and adults, and Dr. Clarke performs corneal transplants.
“About 2,500 sight-restoring surgeries are performed free of charge annually,” says Dr. Clarke, adding that he is motivated to give back to others through his work. “In whatever position or situation we find ourselves, let us remember that there are many people who are less privileged than us. We should look out for them and be prepared, directly or indirectly, to make a little sacrifice for them. This little sacrifice can prevent needless suffering. Indeed, it can save a life.”
Daniel T. Black, DO, FAAFP: Rebuilding Lives
Dr. Black channels his philanthropic efforts in a different direction. In a departure from his work as a family practice physician, he participates in construction projects during mission trips with his church, Garrison Baptist, in Dayton, Tennessee. His travels the past nine years have taken him to Romania, as well as to areas of the United States such as Alaska and Rogersville, Tennessee. He recalls a Rogersville widower who was in need of assistance.
“A husband with three kids lost his wife,” Dr. Black recalls. “His roof was leaking, the floors were rotting, and his 7-year-old son had fallen through. We took a team to the house and made it safe.”
He and fellow volunteers provided similar services to elderly Native Americans in Alaska’s Copper River Valley. Lacking money and such basics as electricity, the native people had to endure the bitterly cold winters as best they could. Dr. Black says the help his group provided initially left many of the people baffled — though that changed over time.
“Hardly anyone would talk to us,” he says. “They had been taken advantage of by people from outside ... but they talked to us more over the years, and we became very good friends.”
His group worked with the Native Americans to repair their homes and also spent time evangelizing as part of the mission outreach. His faith inspires all the work he does, Dr. Black says.
“It’s fun to work for someone when I know that God brought us together for a reason,” he adds. “I love relationships with people. Being able to help makes medicine and mission work enjoyable. It’s an easy blend.”