We are in position to give back to important causes and to help those who cannot help or advocate for themselves
As orthopaedic surgeons, we have made a near-lifelong commitment to use our intellect and physical abilities to care for patients suffering from a wide variety of ailments and injuries. The results of our work are evident in the patients we serve, but our passion and devotion can—and should—extend well past the walls of our practices.
One of the best and most rewarding ways to take advantage of our gifts and maximize our impact is to volunteer. Volunteering, of course, is a very personal activity that can take on many different definitions and forms. In my opinion, volunteering—giving of one’s self for another without seeking anything in return—often leads to the most personally rewarding interactions one can experience. Volunteering can include opportunities to share the gifts of a professional career with others or working within a community to support those who are in need.
My experiences from volunteering have changed who I am at my core, and some of my fondest memories are rooted in less-than-traditional volunteer activities. My longitudinal commitments to the National Ski Patrol, 1990–2016; the Vermont Civil Air Patrol, 2001–2008; and now the United States Coast Guard auxiliary, arise from a deep-seated desire to serve my country in a capacity that makes a difference.
But I suppose not everyone shares my affinity for the water, air, and slopes. A more traditional framework for volunteerism among our members can be broken down to the following four areas:
- The Academy
The Academy’s lifeblood is its volunteers
It no secret that professional, nonprofit societies—including the Academy—need the support of volunteers to exist. However, they are not successful solely because of their financial resources, number of members, or the need/demand that warrants their existence. Success, in this circumstance, is directly correlated to the caliber of volunteers who support an organization and direct and drive its initiatives.
The Academy depends on the generosity of members giving both time and intellectual property in support of our mission and vision. In addition, the lifelong friendships that develop as one serves as a volunteer and part of a team dedicated to the greater good drives many of our members and, in turn, drives the success of the Academy.
To provide context to how critical volunteers are to the Academy’s success, know that more than 3,100 members volunteer each year. That number is staggering, and speaks volumes about our members.
If you want to get involved but do not know where to start, I suggest picking a project that you are truly passionate about and that is important to you personally. Then, fully commit to it and give it your all. At the end, sit back and enjoy the moment. If you can make this commitment, you will likely be asked to serve again and again, creating a wonderful circle of giving that is mutually rewarding for you and the Academy.
Volunteering domestically can take many forms
In addition to those at the Academy, many volunteer opportunities exist at the national level. Some of the more obvious avenues include state and specialty societies, including the Board of Councilors and Board of Specialty Societies.
With these groups in mind, I am a firm believer that the orthopaedic community is stronger when we work together. Regionalization and specialization are vital to our profession, as is the power of a central convening organization that can leverage its assets—more specifically, the personal relationships our members form in their communities, specialty societies, and with the Academy. As long as we keep our eye on the ball, the diverse experiences and affiliations of our members will lead to value creation for everyone.
Aside from professional societies, orthopaedists can also find it rewarding to volunteer to help underserved and underrepresented populations and assisting in the response to natural and man-made disasters. There is something special about being able to stand up and respond to unforeseen events or disruptive situations in communities that can benefit from our expertise. We need to be at the forefront when these events happen. To that end, I plan to focus on enhancing the Academy’s disaster-preparedness education.
International volunteerism can change you
Likewise, there are ample opportunities to share expertise and skills abroad. I’ve heard countless stories from AAOS members who have traveled internationally to provide care and they all say the same thing—they are different people afterward. Seeing first-hand the difference in care between U.S. patients and those from some of the most underserved areas in the world can shake you to your core. I have tremendous respect for the surgeons who regularly embark on humanitarian trips. Not only do they help patients, but they also often help local physicians and other healthcare workers by teaching and mentoring them during and after their trips.
If you have not participated in such an activity but want to, know that it can be overwhelming at first. I suggest you watch the “Global Volunteerism for Orthopaedic Surgeons Instructional Course Lecture,” which was presented at the AAOS 2018 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. It is accessible through the AAOS Annual Meeting On Demand program. Visit http://aaos.ondemand.org for details. I also suggest connecting with groups like the Health Volunteers Overseas, International Medical Corps, and SIGN Fracture Care International to learn more.
Nonorthopaedic volunteerism is special and unique by itself
It goes without saying that many nonorthopaedic-focused volunteer activities need our support, too. We can help, whether it’s by donating money for relief aid, organizing community events, or participating on local, nonmedical boards. And although these organizations and events might not need our surgical expertise, they often can benefit from the fact that we, as orthopaedic surgeons, understand uncertainty and the need to triage. We inherently know how to make do with what is available and manage stress despite the circumstances.
A special tribute
It takes a special person to embrace the concept of volunteerism and actually take the time to engage in it. And although I have made volunteerism a significant part of my life, it pales in comparison to one of our member’s efforts—Stuart Hirsch, MD.
On a very sad note, Dr. Hirsch passed away in March. His contributions to the Academy and many other organizations are too numerous to list. He embodied volunteerism, and his legacy is that he encouraged and motivated all of us to be better—not just better surgeons, but better people.
Valerae O. Lewis, MD, a former Leadership Fellow, said it best … “A true leader not only leads by example, but inspires others to do the same.”
Dr. Hirsch certainly inspired us—old and young alike—with his enthusiasm and dedication. He always made the people around him feel energized and that they were the center of attention. He instinctively used words of encouragement that incited others to serve at a higher level. These are the characteristics of a great physician, surgeon, and leader.