October 18, 2017

Woodman Museum Voices from the Past Living History TourI enjoyed being a tour guide at the Voices from the Past living history cemetery tours sponsored by the Woodman Institute this past weekend. There were 40 volunteers who made the event possible. It was a good time and approximately 500 community members toured the cemetery. In comparison to my professional volunteering, my civic volunteering has been limited. I have many reasons - work, family, work, family. Although this effort was not humanitarian or grand, it was a fun, good time.

We have historically enjoyed respect related to our position in society through our education and professionalism. Physicians who have preceded our current generation participated in both professional and civic volunteerism at high levels, which helped build this respect. They built community and social programs like community mental health centers and community health centers for prenatal care.

As our debt levels from medical education rose and as the practice of medicine became more corporate and complex, physicians became employed and rates of volunteerism and civic engagement declined. A 2008 study by David Grande and Katrina Armstrong published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine evaluated the rates of volunteerism for physicians compared with lawyers and the general public. This study showed that physicians have a lower participation rate in civic volunteering when compared with the other populations. It was felt that they may be more philanthropic than the general population given their wealth. It was interesting that the physicians who worked 35-44 hours weekly had the lowest rates of volunteerism. In 2008, about 35%of physicians participated in volunteer activities - self reported and over the prior year.

As we hear about physician burnout, I can't help but wonder if there is a correlation between the decreased volunteerism and decreased sense of personal accomplishment and self-actualization. 

Volunteering feels good. It doesn't have to be in the medical field. Helping one’s community outside of work just may be one of the solutions to physician burnout. If you would like to know some ways physician volunteers can help here at the Medical Society, please contact either me or Jim Potter.


Deb Harrigan, MD

Please send you comments and questions to president@nhms.org.