October 2000 Bulletin

Volunteerism pays off in satisfaction

Giving something back to profession is rewarding, educational and fun

By Sandra Lee Breisch

After they’ve treated their patients, performed their surgeries and taken care of the business of their practices, orthopaedic surgeons have precious little time left over. And that has to be divided up for continuing medical education, journal reading, family life and just kicking back and relaxing.

Yet, hundreds of orthopaedic surgeons volunteer their time for the AAOS and their specialty and state orthopaedic societies.

Why? Many will tell you it’s a way of giving something back to the profession; that it is satisfying and stimulating. Some are furthering a special interest; others see it as a learning experience at the start of a career.

It may even improve their health status. "There is a small amount of research which indicates that literally volunteerism and happiness–the altruistic satisfaction that comes from that–is conducive to improved health status," says Kenneth R. Pelletier, MD, a Stanford School of Medicine stress management researcher and author of several books.

In Sound Mind, Sound Body: A New Model for Lifelong Health, the researcher studied the backgrounds and lifestyles of 53 successful leaders that included physicians, authors, philanthropists and others. "Although their profession provided recognition and financial returns, they felt that those made demands that were potentially negative on their health–whereas, the altruistic service or philanthropy on their part, not only did not take from them, but had a positive impact on their health, says Dr. Pelletier."

"My volunteer efforts, especially with the Board of Councilors, have energized me and provided me with intellectually stimulating work outside the day-to-day routine of clinical medicine," says Dale R. Butler, MD. Dr. Butler has been an active for many years, serving on the Board of Councilors and the Health Policy Professional Liability Committee and now on the Council on Communications. He’s also active in California, dealing with legislative issues.

"It’s rewarding to me," says Dr. Butler. "I get satisfaction and fulfillment in that I’m helping in a different way than practicing medicine with a patient. But it’s also important for me to give something back and make it better in the future for other orthopaedists, physicians, in general, and patients."

According to Dr. Pelletier’s research, a sense of well-being that occurs at the time and persists from helping others is a "linkage" to "helper’s high." "When people describe it [altruistic work], it has all of the characteristics of the kind of activity that we know are stress-reducing and biologically regeneratives," he explains.

Like other orthopaedists who volunteer on committees, organizational activities, editorial panels and other labors of love, Laura Lowe Tosi, MD, knows the feelings of "helper’s high" very well. Her free time is devoted to the Task Force on Women’s Health Issues, co-chairing the Women’s Health Issues Oversight Panel, and she is the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation representative to the Council on Research and Scientific Affairs.

"I work on women’s health issues as a way of changing the world, serving and trying to make a difference in my community," says Dr. Tosi. "But volunteerism is also fun and has great meaning for me."

Blair C. Filler, MD, echoes similar sentiments. He chairs the Academy’s CPT and ICD Coding Committee, is a member of the Council on Health Policy and Practice and Health Care Financing Committee. And he "feels good" about "pushing for better reimbursements" as a member on the American Medical Association’s CPT Advisory Committee, CPT 5 Project, Maintenance and Education Workgroup and the CPT Editorial Panel.

"It [his volunteer activity] encompasses all of medicine as well as orthopaedics and gives me a better viewpoint of where orthopaedics fits into the whole scene and what the other person’s needs are as well–basically a broader stroke to applying reimbursements to all of the medical community."

Volunteerism "doesn’t necessarily" make Dempsey S. Springfield, MD, "feel any healthier." He’s on the Program Committee, the Annual Meeting Committee, a member-at-large on the Council for Education and was chairman of the Publications Committee–and more.

"I volunteer for these committees because we, as orthopaedic surgeons, have an obligation to foster our profession," says Dr. Springfield. "Because the orthopaedists before us took the obligation [volunteerism] very seriously. We’re the benefactors and we owe it to subsequent generations to do for them what those people did for us."

Since he was a young boy, Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, has volunteered for "nearly everything." Today, he chairs the AAOS’s Bone and Joint Decade Committee and the Annual Meeting Program Committee and the International Center for Orthopaedic Education. Besides "broadening his horizons," he says volunteerism gives him a chance to "contribute to the orthopaedic profession more effectively." He uses the issues he champions to "strengthen the orthopaedic specialty" in every way he can.

"By volunteering for various committees and organizations, orthopaedic surgeons can ultimately improve patient care and outcomes of patients and it is also a way to enhance our specialties," adds Dr. Weinstein.

Although volunteerism doesn’t exactly help you increase your finances, it means much more than a paycheck to Letha Y. Griffin, MD. "There is some love of the Academy in that orthopaedists volunteer without pay and get involved in the decision-making process," she says. "The question always comes up with the Academy: ‘Should people get paid for their participation in various committees, and if so, how much is their time worth?’"

Dr. Griffin says she enjoys giving her time to mainly educational committees. She is on the AAOS Research Agenda Update Panels for both Women’s Health Issues 2000 and Sports Medicine 2000, a member of the Publications Committee and donates time to other related committees and organizations.

"It allows me to interact with my peers and know they’re increasing my own knowledge base," she says.

According to James E. Austin, chair of the Social Enterprise Initiative, Harvard Business School, who headed a 1996 study on volunteer involvement of U.S. corporate executives, his research found that serving on the board of a nonprofit organization also can provide a forum to develop leadership capabilities. "Exposure to others with distinctive perspectives is a broadening experience and particularly valuable for those aspiring to be significant leaders,"he explains.

And that’s what "motivated" George A. Paletta Jr. MD, (class of 2000) to join the Candidate Members Committee. "It was an opportunity to begin to get involved with the governing and administrative functions of the Academy," he says. "Specifically, I was excited to work in a forum which might influence the young up-and-coming Academy membership. It was not so much a chance to get my ‘individual objectives’ heard by the Academy, but rather the opportunity to air concerns I thought were common to many of the young Academy members and potential members."

From a younger physician’s perspective, William C. Warner Jr. MD, (class of 1994) says, "we can learn from volunteering what has gone on in the past." He is active on many organizational committees as well as the Academy’s Programming Committee as a pediatric liaison. "The Academy [through its committees] has been able to relate to its membership by getting info to them, being on the forefront of getting new ideas and also new treatment methods–all so we can take this back to our patients and help them out."

Dr. Warner says he also enjoys "getting to know the older members, what they do and know them on a more personal basis."

By being on the Adult Spine Evaluation Subcommittee, Daniel K. Riew, MD, (class of 1999) says it gives him "a chance to have his objectives heard by the Academy. It also gives me a chance to interact with my peers or mentors in my specialty and to gain experience that helps me in my practice and other organizations."

Pediatric orthopaedist Laurie O. Hughes, MD, (class of 1998) says she enjoys being on the Anatomy-Imaging Evaluation Subcommittee because it gets her out to meet people who are not in her specialty. "It keeps me up-to-date and forces me to commit to reading the literature thoroughly,"she says.

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