One day, tired of seeing patient after patient with large head and neck cancers that could have been treated if caught early, otolaryngologist Charles Moore, MD, hopped into his car. He didn’t drive away from the overwhelming need he saw or the frustration he felt; instead, he headed to the neighborhoods that were home to the people he saw in his office every day.
“After saying to myself, over and over, ‘somebody needs to do something about this,’ I finally thought, maybe it should be me,” said Dr. Moore, chief of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Grady Hospital in Atlanta. “It was scary to do that, but I didn’t feel I could turn my back on it anymore.”
His first neighborhood expeditions were listening sessions. He talked with people at churches, community centers, homeless shelters, and on the street. “I didn’t tell them who I was, but people were very receptive to talking to me,” Dr. Moore said. “That’s how I learned.”
Soon, he was returning to the neighborhood on a regular basis, a one-man roving medical clinic operating out of the back of his car. What began simply as an effort to decrease suffering from head and neck cancer has since grown into the HEALing Community Center, a network of federally qualified health centers that provide primary and specialty healthcare to people in some of Atlanta’s most underserved neighborhoods.
Across the country, physicians with busy clinical practices and demanding academic careers are
discovering the many benefits of community service. They’re using their medical skills, knowledge, and connections to improve public health and empower patients. They’re forging community connections, inspiring the next generation and finding a deep sense of personal satisfaction.
Here is how three otolaryngologists serve and strengthen their communities, and how you can make a difference in yours.
The Community Ambassador: Dr. Lamont Jones
Before Lamont Jones, MD, MBA, was vice chair of otolaryngology at the Henry Ford Health System and an internationally respected keloid researcher, he was a public-school student in Detroit. He was considering a career in bioengineering when one of his high school teachers suggested medical school. “Growing up in Detroit, I didn’t have any examples of African-American doctors. But I was always taught that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I worked at it and was given the opportunity,” Dr. Jones said.
After graduating from medical school, he returned to Detroit. “Where a lot of people saw Detroit as a desolate place, I saw opportunity. I saw fertile ground,” Dr. Jones said.
He now inspires students at the very same high school he once attended. While guest lecturing a physics class, for instance, Dr. Jones interweaves his work with facial trauma reconstruction to deliver a powerful lesson about the physics of car accidents. His presence is also a testimony to the importance of the very class he’s teaching. “The students see someone who sat in the same classroom and learned some of the same things, and they see not only how I was able to apply that learning to get to where I am, but also how I use those concepts every day,” Dr. Jones said.
Dr. Jones also serves as an informal mentor for many of his pediatric patients. “I frequently ask the kids what their plans are for the future and I talk to them and their parents about their grades,” said Dr. Jones, noting that he’s been invited to numerous graduation parties, and tries to attend as many as possible. “As a physician, you have a bigger stage and more opportunity to make a difference in your community,” Dr. Jones said. “I’m blessed to help others and to get compensated well for what I do. With that comes some responsibility to give back.”
The Public Servant: Dr. Charles Moore
When Dr. Moore accepted a position in the department of otolaryngology at Grady Memorial Hospital, a 1200-bed Level One trauma center that provides care for many of Atlanta’s indigent patients, he did so with an eye toward improving the health of a traditionally underserved population.
His initial community outreach efforts were small: one man, providing service to one person at a time, in some of Atlanta’s most under-resourced neighborhoods. “Gradually, I realized it would take more than one person to make a big impact,” Dr. Moore said, so he began inviting colleagues to join him. In time, and with great effort and collaboration, his outreach led to the development of the HEALing Community Center, a network of four federally qualified healthcare centers, including two school-based health centers.
Dr. Moore also serves as director of the Urban Health Initiative at Emory University, an initiative that is designed to address health disparities. “One of the places that we have worked is at an apartment complex where there’s about 90% unemployment and no access to transportation,” Dr. Moore said. Students in Emory’s Master of Public Health Program worked with residents and local churches to help tenants access local businesses. “We got two churches involved. One donated the use of their van; the other paid for gas and a driver. We came up with a route that would go to grocery stores, the laundromat and doctors’ offices, and some students also created an app so you could see where the van was in route,” Dr. Moore said.
Dr. Moore has also taught community grocery store workers how to read food labels, how to shop economically and how to prepare healthy meals, so workers can share that information with shoppers (and use it in their own homes). He regularly leads Saturday morning walking programs as well.
“If I’m in sweats, it’s a little bit easier for some folks to ask questions,” Dr. Moore said. “My goal is to create a layered way of providing support systems for folks to get access to care and learn more about health.”
Called by His Church: Dr. D. Bradley Welling
As an otolaryngologist, D. Bradley Welling, MD, PhD, chief of otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, and editor of the Triological Society journal Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, has won awards and acclaim for his research on the clinical manifestations of mutations in the neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) gene in vestibular schwannoma. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church), Dr. Welling serves his community and mentors the next generation.
Dr. Welling is the president of the Cambridge Stake of the church’s Young Men’s Organization; he oversees and coordinates activities for eight regional groups that serve young men aged 12 to 18. Dr. Welling and his counselors, along with the Young Women’s leaders, plan and lead youth conferences and gatherings that emphasize community service. This summer’s youth conference, for instance, included opportunities for the youth to entertain the elderly at area nursing homes. They have also pulled weeds along the Charles River in an effort to preserve the area’s natural ecology. In fall and spring, youth help clean up and prepare a local youth camp.
Each of these activities is important, but Dr. Welling knows that the relationships he and the youth members are building are precious and important. “You have more opportunity to influence a young person, I think, between the ages of about 12 and 16 than at any other time,” Dr. Welling said. “By the time they’re 17 or 18, they’re pulled away from home and are focused on their friends. But in that 12-to-16-year-old-range, they’re still willing to listen to you. They are really a wonderful group of young people.”
Dr. Welling sums up why he thinks community service is important for otolaryngologists: “It isn’t only a benefit to those you serve. It really helps individuals be well-grounded. It helps us not get too carried away with our own importance.”
Jennifer Fink is a freelance medical writer based in Wisconsin.