Standing in line to vote last week, I felt a great deal of pride in being an American – of living in a country where I have the right to vote and where I have a voice in how the country, our state and our University are run. This is a precious privilege, as well as an important responsibility that doesn’t end when election results are in.
Being an American means feeling a responsibility not only for oneself, but for all other Americans and for those in need around the world. This is rooted in compassion, which is one of my 7Cs and one of the values that defines our University of Michigan Health System community.
Many of you have told me that you like my 7Cs, so with election week behind us and Thanksgiving on the horizon, I want to talk about the C of Compassion and the importance of giving back.
Compassion is the idea that you can put yourself in another person’s shoes and feel empathy. It’s so important to remember that we are not alone in this world and that there are others who experience pain and suffering – many who have it worse than we do. Right now, there are individuals, families and entire communities who are facing long-term recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. People who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina are still struggling to put their lives back together. Just this month, U-M Wallenberg Medal honoree Dr. Denis Mukwege was almost murdered because of his heroic work treating survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. He was subsequently forced to flee his home and the country where he has helped tens of thousands of women and children.
By nature, the work we do at UMHS requires compassion. I have yet to meet one person working in health care who wasn’t drawn to the field because of a fundamental desire to help people. Another thing that I’ve noticed about the UMHS community is that so many of you go above and beyond your work roles to help and serve others as volunteers within UMHS and in the broader community and the world.
For example, last month, more than 30 UMHS physician assistants helped renovate the future home of a fellow U-M employee and raised $4,000 for Habitat for Humanity. This was the fourth year that the group volunteered with Habitat.
Then there is the group of U-M medical students and faculty physicians who donate their time and skills to run a free clinic for uninsured residents of rural Livingston County every Saturday from 1:30 – 5 p.m.
I also hear many stories similar to that of Jennifer Schwab, R.N. Jennifer is a clinical care coordinator and certified diabetes educator in pediatric endocrinology who has used her personal time off time to volunteer as a cabin clinician at Camp Midicha, an American Diabetes Association summer camp in Fenton, MI, for five of the last six years.
The faculty, staff and students of UMHS are lending their hearts, hands and minds across Michigan, across the country and across the globe – all in the name of compassion and service to others.
Volunteering is one of the most rewarding ways to give. Several years ago in December, my family and I spent a week in Guatemala helping to build schools with a group from our synagogue in Indianapolis. We also brought food, decorations and other items with us to create a memorable Christmas celebration for impoverished families. It was an amazing experience to share as a family, and it reinforced in each of us the importance of volunteer work.
Currently, there are more than 1,800 active volunteers who help create a culture of compassion and service in our Health System. From the Motley Crew, a group of U-M student volunteers who provide monthly entertainment for children at Mott, to employees of the Oliver/Hatcher Construction company who volunteer every Thursday at our Skyline Café, to the specially-trained four-legged friends and their human companions who bring the Therapaws program to UMHHC, to employees who volunteer at UMHS in roles other than their day jobs, we are incredibly fortunate to be part of – and to benefit from – such a generous community.
All of these are wonderful examples of people doing amazing things for others. I know that there are many more examples out there in our UMHS community and I want to hear about them. Today through Thanksgiving, I invite you to share your volunteer story and experience – your personal “Story of Giving” - in the comments section below. In doing so, you can inspire others and generate awareness of the countless ways we can give.
I want to wish you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for.