Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: From private tragedy to public activism

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James Blaine, MD


Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile

James Blaine, MD
From private tragedy to public activism

Physicians underestimate themselves," says Jim Blaine, 52, a family practitioner in Springfield, MO. "There's still a strong respect for us in our society. If a physician gets involved in a community project, that legitimizes it."


Blaine ought to know. He's the quintessential physician-activist: chairman of Springfield's DWI Task Force, which has convinced Missouri legislators to pass some of the nation's toughest drunk-driving laws; president of the board of the regional Child Advocacy Center, which aids sexually abused children; Missouri spokesman on tobacco for the American Heart Association; medical director of the St. John's Road to Freedom Smoking Cessation Program; and vice chairman of Ozark's Fighting Back Advisory Board, which works to curb young people's gang-related activity, as well as their alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse. And that's just the beginning of the list of boards, societies, committees, and commissions on which Blaine is active.

Tragedy led Blaine to his first "do-gooder" project: He turned his attention to the problem of DWI offenders after his 19-year-old sister and her 6-month-old son were killed by a drunk driver. "I was a first-year medical student at the time," he says. "I wanted to see how we could make a positive impact."

After completing his education, Blaine spent 12 hectic years as an emergency physician. But when a friend and the friend's son died in a plane crash, he decided he needed "time to smell the flowers." So he cross-trained in family practice. For the first time in his medical career, Blaine was working only eight to nine hours a day, with time to spare for extracurricular activities.

For Blaine, his multitudinous activities are a source of "fun." It's fun, he says, to convince groups of influential friends—among them physicians, law-enforcement officials, attorneys, judges, city council members, and state legislators, right on up to Missouri's governor—to join him in addressing local and state health problems. What else motivates him? "It's the positive attitude of the people I work with," he insists. "There's not much work to it, really. None of us gets paid. We all do it because we enjoy it."

Even though he has his fingers in many pies, Blaine figures that all his activities take up only about 90 minutes a day. Even so, including his practice, he regularly works 10- to 11- hour days. "E-mail has been a big help," he says. "It's amazing how much that lets you accomplish. And being chairman of most of these committees lets me set the timetable." He plans meetings for 7 am to avoid cutting into his office schedule and because, at that hour, "no one ever has a conflict." Blaine views himself as a "facilitator," which he defines as "a leader who doesn't need credit," and he's quick to deflect praise to others who, he says, do the real work on the projects he helps to launch.

As busy as he is, Blaine makes sure to carve out time for his wife and four children. "My hobby is my kids," he attests. "When I recently skipped an important meeting, people asked me where I was. I told them I had something more important to do: watch my 8-year-old be a bug in his second-grade play. He was a yellow jacket. He was terrific."

Neil Chesanow
Northeast Editor


Carol Pincus, ed. . Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: From private tragedy to public activism. Medical Economics 2000;11:93.