As a Cardiologist in-training—and concerned physician, in general—I think it’s a good idea to stop every once in a while, to consider some of the ways we might engage our communities through our careers. After all, the walls of a hospital or clinic certainly aren’t the bounds of the care we provide. In many regards, our mission only starts there!
Being able to help others starts with understanding the people of the community we seek to serve. While this understanding can be found in lots of different ways, I’d argue there’s no more direct route than by asking questions and listening carefully. If we can hear how and/or why our patients are struggling, we can begin to appreciate where they’re coming from. Listening allows us to identify the needs of our communities.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to see the strengths of our communities. They all have them, and taking note of what they are is key. Once you’ve identified a community’s need, within the context of the strengths of that community, an important connection is made. These are the connections that allow for the enactment of lasting change. Put more simply, we can’t expect to succeed without embracing an individual community’s best qualities and institutions.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the role of getting involved in professional organizations. It makes sense to get plugged in with organizations like the American Heart Association (www.heart.org) and/or American College of Cardiology (www.acc.org), who provide resources and materials that help to create a community of providers. Furthermore, the communities we aim to serve are also connected through these organizations:
Finally, I think it’s important to consider volunteerism—of any kind—whether or not a direct link to one’s profession or specialty can be claimed. Empathy for people from our communities is a motivating principle in the work we do. I believe that volunteering promotes the empathy that drives us. After all, without empathy, what makes it worth working so hard to improve the lives of others?
For better or worse, truly engaging the communities we live and work in often requires a special sort of effort. There are a seemingly infinite number of responsibilities and distractions that request—or outright demand—our time and attention. We all share this struggle, and we all experience varying degrees of success in achieving our goals at different times in our careers. Prioritization of “what really matters” to each of us (and a corresponding allotment of energy) cannot be overstated.
As the experts in the care of patients with cardiovascular diseases, we play a pivotal role in guiding the care of so many people. Being a part of, and working toward the improvement of, the communities we work and live in can only make us more effective and fulfilled in what we do.
Mark Kaeppler, MD
Cardiology Fellow, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wis.
Mark Kaeppler is a Cardiology Fellow at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He’s in the process of focusing his research interests. The opinions expressed are solely his own.