Even as a child, Tom Young knew he wanted to be a physician serving children. He clearly recalls his inspiration for becoming a pediatrician. Through reading the Weekly Reader in elementary school in the 1950s, he became aware of Albert Schweitzer’s life of service as a medical missionary in Africa. He decided he wanted to be an Albert Schweitzer. He says ‘Wherever you go in the world, mothers and fathers everywhere feel love and compassion for their children and want them to be healthy and successful in life.’ He wanted to find a way to help give disadvantaged children an equal chance.
After a general pediatrics residency, he completed a fellowship focusing on community and school health. He subsequently secured grant funding for Lexington’s first school health clinic at Harrison Elementary. This site was selected because of its high number of homeless children from the nearby Salvation Army. This was the first large federal grant to establish a school health clinic in the United States. He believed that success in the classroom depended on the quality of physical and mental health of the child, not simply the quality of their teachers. There are now seven school-based clinics in Lexington, all staffed and administered by HealthFirst Bluegrass.
Inspired by Schweitzer’s foreign medical missionary example, Tom Young began working 20 years ago in Ecuador with two main objectives- improving the individual and community health of an impoverished shantytown on the outskirts of Santo Domingo and providing service learning opportunities for UK medical students, residents and physicians. He began with a team of 5 pediatric residents in 2002. Teams now number 50-60 and the program is run by UK Shoulder to Shoulder Global. After local focus groups and fundraising, a full-time clinic has been in operation for 7 years in a former clinic building that had been abandoned for years. The clinic now includes adult and pediatric services with a full time local physician, dentist and nurse as well as a pharmacy and support staff that provide home visitation services.
Health professional students and practitioners are involved in three trips annually as part of this international service learning experience. UK colleges represented include medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, health sciences and public health. Some undergraduates from UK, Centre and Transylvania have also joined the team. All participants take a required 3 hour course covering cultural competency issues and interdisciplinary healthcare teamwork.
In addition to their emphasis on providing local Ecuadoran health care and service learning for Kentucky learners, they have begun to provide training for local providers. In cooperation with the Ecuadoran Ministry of Health, they have initiated the Helping Babies Breathe program, created by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, to train local birth attendants to properly resuscitate infants at birth. Based partly on the success of the Ecuadoran project, Young and others in UK pediatrics have begun a project in India for children with special needs and developmental problems.
Sam Matheny, former chair of UK’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, has worked in Ecuador with Young for years and says ‘Quite simply, Tom has a heart of gold.’ He is passing on the inspirational legacy that has driven him since childhood. Many students, residents and physicians who have participated in these service learning projects have had life-changing experiences, feeling reconnected to their reasons for going into medicine. One student gave Tom a framed quotation by his original inspiration, Albert Schweitzer-
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
About the Author-
Dr Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, specializing in stress-related chronic disease and burnout prevention for helping professionals. He can be reached through his website at www.mindbodystudio.org