Giving Back: It’s Good for Your Health Date

March 30th is National Doctors Day, and this is an ideal time to recognize the doctors in our community who give back in so many ways to help our neighbors in need.

At Care Ring we have the good fortune to partner with hundreds of physicians and all of our major hospital and health care systems in the Charlotte region to manage a network of voluntary care for those needing access to care.

Originally established by the Mecklenburg County Medical Society, Physicians Reach Out (PRO) has been managed by Care Ring in recent years. Collectively, PRO has generated more than $112 million in donated care from local health care providers in just over a decade. This remarkable generosity every year allows thousands of our very low-income neighbors to access life-saving treatments and improve their quality of life.

Passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helped many in our region in a number of ways, including improving access to health care insurance for many who had previously been excluded from getting care. But the ACA is by no means a panacea -- we recognize there are still tens of thousands of people across the region who remain unable to access or afford care. Far too many continue to work in low-wage jobs that do not offer affordable care, or for a number of reasons find themselves ineligible for public or private assistance.

Thanks to the giving back spirit of Charlotte’s physicians and the leadership of our local medical community, Charlotte has not turned their backs on those in need. Because of the generosity of Charlotte’s medical providers and their voluntary participation in PRO, Charlotte is a more kind, caring, and compassionate place.

Why do so many of our physicians choose to volunteer to care for others through PRO? And in addition to the clear benefit that the recipients of care receive, does the volunteer physician reap any rewards as well?

The value of volunteering

Doctors are our critical friends – knowledgeable of best practices, aware how we have performed in the past, seemingly always optimistic we can adopt healthy behaviors and live more healthy lives.

I have come to expect my primary care physician to ask a series of critical questions when I arrive for a check-up. These include: “Are you eating well, exercising every day, getting enough sleep?”

To the list of appropriate and expected questions we might need to add one more:

“How many hours did you volunteer over the last month?”

A host of recent studies reveal the many health benefits – in some cases the direct correlation – between giving back to serve others and improved health outcomes.

Dr. John Rowe, founding director of the Division on Aging at Harvard Medical School and professor of health policy and aging at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, points to numerous studies showing how giving back to help others in need can have multiple positive health benefits for the volunteer.

Cited in a recent Huffington Post story as “The Surprising Health Tip that Doctors and Bosses Should Recommend,” Rowe believes volunteering can yield multiple positive results, including:

  • Volunteers are more likely than non-volunteers to take better care of themselves, getting required vaccinations at a greater rate and avoiding risky health behaviors like smoking;
  • Volunteering can enhance an individual’s social network, giving more meaning and purpose to daily living; and
  • Those over 60 who regularly volunteer can actually reverse cognitive declines.

Charlotte’s medical community seems to have figured out long ago what the science is telling us today about the value of volunteering. Volunteering to serve others not only helps the recipient of the good deed, but the person who is volunteering reaps multiple positive rewards, too.

To all of our volunteer providers –PAs, dentists, and physicians at primary and specialty clinics and hospitals across Charlotte – thank you for volunteering through PRO.

Your work is so beneficial to our community. And it is also good for you!

A version of this article appears in the March 2016 issue of Mecklenburg Medicine, a publication of the Mecklenburg County Medical Society,

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