Volunteer Doctors Make an Impact
The Open Door Clinic operated by Urban Ministries of Wake County provides healthcare to those in need.
By Beth Peterson
photography by Cody Hamilton
“First, do no harm.” It’s an oft-quoted saying in medical practice. It makes sense. You don’t become a doctor unless you intend to help others. But, what’s next? If doing no harm is first, what comes second? The volunteer doctors at Urban Ministries of Wake County’s free/low-cost Open Door Clinic seem to know.
One of the Open Door Clinic’s volunteer doctors, Dr. John Emery, enjoyed a long career as an internist, which included a stint as a ship’s doctor in the Navy, followed by residency at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Then came 27 years with Permanente Medical Group—starting in Portland, Oregon, and eventually landing him here in Raleigh—followed by part-time work at the Rex Senior Center. When he retired, however, he felt he had even more to give. At the suggestion of his wife, Dr. Emery has volunteered for the past seven years at Urban Ministries’ Open Door Clinic. He volunteers at least three times a week, giving of his time, energy, and expertise.
“I’ve never had so much fun practicing medicine,” Dr. Emery says. “What really enthuses me is the level of professional care given by all of the volunteers.” To listen to him talk about the Open Door Clinic, it’s evident that he feels honored to work alongside all of the volunteer staff. “Everyone has the attitude that they want to help out, have a little fun, do something good with their life. I’m part of something, making a little difference for others who have had pretty tough lives,” Dr. Emery says. Recalling the recent interaction with a female patient who needed a translator, he explained that he needed to get a little creative in order to determine how best to address her problems. He put a cell phone on speaker, placed it on the examination room counter, and called an interpreter, who did all the translating between them. “It’s so rewarding to provide access,” he says. “Lots of times these folks aren’t treated too well.”
Dr. Charles van der Horst, an Emeritus Professor of Medicine at UNC, retired from regular practice in 2015. His friend, Dr. Gary Greenberg—who also happens to be the well-loved and highly respected medical consultant at Urban Ministries—encouraged him to begin volunteering. From the first, Dr. van der Horst says he loved it. “I could spend an hour with each patient, which you can’t do in regular practice. You get to know patients really well.” Because he now has time to develop deeper relationships with patients, he says, “I can get people to stop smoking, lose weight, all sorts of things you can’t normally do.”
Based on a USAID demonstration project on hepatitis C that he helped develop for the Ukraine, and having specialized in infectious diseases, Dr. van der Horst was able to develop Urban Ministries’ own affordable treatment program for those with hepatitis C, a program he started in January 2017. “Of 11 [hepatitis C patients] completing treatment, 11 have been cured,” he shares.
Of all his experiences, from teaching in medical school to being an AIDS researcher, his favorite thing is having one-on-one interactions with patients. “I was losing that at the end of my career at UNC, seeing patients [when I had] so little time to spend. I’ve recaptured that at [Urban Ministries’] Open Door Clinic.”
Dr. Elizabeth Campbell serves as the medical director at Urban Ministries’ Open Door Clinic. After leaving Cary Medical Group in order to be more available to her young family, a friend suggested Urban Ministries to her. Since 2002, she has regularly volunteered her time at the clinic. When asked why she does it, she credits her upbringing.
“I grew up in Kansas City, where I witnessed the results of urbanization and saw people being left behind as the community around them changed drastically. My mom felt it was her mission to help.” After seeing her mother volunteer hours of her own time to help children learn to read, Dr. Campbell says, “I began to understand what it is to not have amenities, to understand the lives they were living.” Of her current patients, she says, “These are valuable people who need care.”
While they were growing up, Dr. Campbell’s son and daughter also frequently volunteered in the food pantry on-site, or as an intake volunteer, or took patients’ blood pressure. Now grown and forging career paths of their own, both of her children talk about how they might someday incorporate volunteerism into their profession. It seems her mother’s legacy continues, and Dr. Campbell affirms, “I cherish the mission of this organization.”