‘It recharges your batteries’
About a decade ago, the economic crisis began clobbering the already-struggling rust belt community of Youngstown, Ohio, near where Thomas E. Albani Jr., MD, has his solo primary care practice. He began seeing and hearing about more people who couldn’t afford health insurance and who were unable—or unwilling—to get public assistance.
In 2008, Albani and a group of volunteer nurses opened the Midlothian Free Health Clinic to provide primary care to low-income adults without insurance. The clinic is open two evenings a month at a local church.
In the nine years since, the clinic has served thousands of patients, expanded services to offer physical therapy and dental care and has grown into an operation with about two dozen other physicians, nurses and volunteers. The clinic providers have caught cancers, diagnosed heart problems and spotted other conditions early, saving the lives of people who would have otherwise likely received care only when it was too late, he says.
“When you watch the impact it has on their lives and you see their faces, the tears and the hugs, it really humbles you and makes you recognize that what we do has a lot of value,” Albani says. “We can truly make a world of difference for people.”
Albani says his work at the clinic leaves him feeling refreshed, partly because it allows him to focus on just one thing. “There is no need to worry about insurance forms and all of the red tape that we deal with in our private practice,” he says. “We can take care of our patients and simply focus on medical care. It takes it back to why you got into medicine in the first place.”
LeRoy gets that same feeling when he volunteers, especially when he’s called upon to do what he calls “instant volunteerism,” from helping sick passengers on an airplane or volunteering at Dayton’s annual air show in the medical tent.
“When I went to medical school, that’s part of why I wanted to be a primary care physician, so I could respond to any kind of situation,” he says. “Sometimes divine intervention happens, and you’re like, ‘This is why I do what I do.’ It recharges your batteries instantly.”
For physicians new to a community or those in solo or smaller practices, volunteerism can have another benefit: It’s great public relations. “People in the community pay attention to these things,” Albani says. “They watch what’s going on in the community. They acknowledge what you do. It’s a thumbs-up sign in the community.”