As Alexis de Tocqueville observed years ago in characterizing our country’s formation, the defining characteristic of the American people is a commitment to service. More recently, during the 2008 presidential election campaign, I noted the commitment of both presidential candidates to national public service. After 20 years in the Army, my military ethic says “follow the leader,” so I am eager to say yes to President Obama, and I challenge you to join his rededication of our society to service before self.
Academy leaders and members do recognize the countless colleagues, national and international, who serve the profession with personal energy, intellectual capital and dedication, and we thank you. These contributions provide untold and often unheralded value to ophthalmology as a whole.
As I look forward to the coming year, I’d like to find ways for volunteers to discuss and address several emerging issues: conflict of interest, the concept of integrated eye care teams, quality assurance and the advancement of the Academy as a professional association. Additional challenges, especially for me as president, in 2009 include Academy stability during the transference of executive leadership and the recognition that health care economics is not recession-immune.
Real volunteerism is serving others without recompense. Why do it? Volunteering gives you a chance to save lives (or vision), strengthen communities, form lasting personal and professional relationships and even live longer. Having assessed the Academy’s strengths, visions and challenges along with its membership’s exceptional talents and energy, I’m convinced that we as ophthalmologists have excess capacity.
Here are some thoughts for where and how you might want to contribute within or outside the Academy:
- I’ve always believed in starting at home, and your community medical societies or civic organizations need your highly valued energy.
- Remember that in electoral politics, campaign volunteers engender lasting relationships with their candidate.
- State medical board appointees provide a remarkable service to the public.
- For ophthalmologic pursuits, start at www.aao.org. Select “Member Services,” then “Volunteer” for a vista of volunteer portals.
- The Foundation’s EyeCare America is almost a mandatory enlistment.
- Young Ophthalmologists and other clinical and nonclinical special interest groups each offer opportunities tailored in time and place.
- National and international nongovernmental organizations can accelerate your expertise and open broader horizons. Consider International Medical Corps or Project HOPE for service in challenging environments. Or you can seek international clinical service with or without an intermediary by searching the vetted volunteer sites and then signaling your readiness through the Academy’s Eyecare Volunteer Registry (www.eyecarevolunteer.org). We’re currently seeking advisors who have personal or ethnic connections with colleagues in developing nations.
Multinational congresses offer opportunities for clinical and nonclinical speakers. Become a member of the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology or a similar organization. From these ranks rise the profession’s next generation of leaders.
You’ll learn more than you teach through volunteer projects, and the friendships are forever.