Nearly every week I see another initiative focused on clinician burnout and depression, and the holiday season is often a particularly difficult time. However, I’ve started to wonder if the reason we struggle emotionally is not because we have too many problems, but because we don’t have enough problems. What I mean is, we have issues that we think are problems because we’ve lost perspective about what real problems look like. I have the opportunity to offer occasional “telemedicine wound care” in Tanzania, thanks to my friends at Village Schools International (VSI). Although clinicians in U.S. wound centers see a lot of challenging and even sad medical problems, these problems don’t compare to the advanced medical pathology found in an African village — often far from any medical care. Every time I get a message from Tanzania asking for advice on behalf of a patient, my first thought is, “I have no problems.”
I’ve been modestly involved with VSI for decades and it’s taught me the truth of the adage, “What we obtain too cheaply we esteem too lightly.” (Thomas Paine, 1776) The reason for VSI’s incredible success at building schools in Africa is that the local villagers sacrifice to build the schools themselves (with funding from VSI). After a parent has worked all day in their fields and then worked all evening to build a school, they will insist that their children get up and go to school every day! Although VSI provides the teachers, equipment, infrastructure, and all the other elements to make the school a success, the local people value it greatly because it did not come cheaply to them. That change in perspective is the secret to success.
This Christmas, if you are questioning what your mission in life is, or if you are thinking that your own problems are too big, spend 3 minutes watching the video below created by my young friend Josh Vinton. If you know of anyone who would like to spend time teaching in Africa, contact Josh at [email protected]. If you are willing to provide virtual help with the medical challenges that the teachers identify in these villages, email me at [email protected]. I will add you to the short list of physicians who help provide medical guidance (or at least help make a diagnosis) via email, as they arise.
I wish you all Merry Christmas!