Within a short walk of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans visitors can find a casino, riverboats, the National World War II Museum, the famed French Quarter, a multitude of restaurants, music venues and more.
Geejo Geevarghese, M.D., of New City, N.Y., seals a packed box at Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans. Geevarghese was one of 220 volunteers who participated in the AAFP's community service activity Oct. 9 in New Orleans during the 2018 Family Medicine Experience.
But on a Tuesday morning during the 2018 Family Medicine Experience (FMX), more than 200 family physicians left behind the tourist attractions -- and the CME -- to do good works in their host city.
After investing significant time and money in transportation, hotels, meals and event registration to get here, one might wonder why busy physicians would give up an entire morning for strangers in a city far from home.
"I volunteer pretty regularly at home, and I saw an opportunity to volunteer somewhere else and learn about this community," said Megan Zaworski, D.O., of Columbus, Ohio. "It's a good way to meet people at this conference who love to do the same things as me."
Zaworksi cleaned and did maintenance work at a youth center with a group that included fellow OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital Family Medicine resident Allison Gase, D.O., of Columbus, who said she wanted to do more than "just tourist things."
Other sites that benefitted from family physicians' efforts included schools, a food bank and an environmental nonprofit organization.
Some family physicians brought their spouses and children to the event, pushing the total number of participants to 220.
More than 200 people volunteered for community service activities during the Family Medicine Experience. Family physicians and their families spent time helping others at seven different locations around New Orleans.
New Orleans is in the middle of a citywide initiative to log 300,000 volunteer hours this year(volunteer.handsonneworleans.org) to mark the city's tricentennial. Cory Fisher, D.O., of Rocky River, Ohio, said he and his wife wanted their 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter to be part of the effort.
"It's really cool, especially when you have families," said Fisher, whose family volunteered for a recycling project at Arc of Greater New Orleans, which supports people with intellectual disabilities. "We wanted to get involved."
Unlike Fisher, Roxanne Alsbury, M.D., of Crescent City, Calif., came to FMX by herself, but she found herself working in a group of more than two dozen other family physicians at the Second Harvest Food Bank.
"This sounded like a good way to start my day, meet people, make connections and do something good at the same time," Alsbury said. "My goals for this conference were kind of selfish. I wanted to get my CME so I can renew my license, and I wanted to see New Orleans. This was a way to do something that wasn't just for me."
Vincent Mallory, M.D., of Alexandria, La., said he cared for New Orleans evacuees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This time, he helped Big Easy residents in their own city as part of a group that painted and performed other tasks at a local school.
"I believe when you have stature in a community as a physician, you need to reach out to the community and see what your patients do and where they live," he said. "We can have meetings about health disparities all day long, but we need to see who we're treating. Then when you go back to those meetings, you talk differently because you've actually seen it."
The event marked the first time the AAFP has organized a large-scale volunteer effort during FMX. Margaux Lazarin, D.O., M.P.H., of Redwood City, Calif., said she hoped it wouldn't be the last.
"I like the idea that we're giving back to the city that's hosting us," said Lazarin, who volunteered at the Green Project, which reduces waste by salvaging building materials and recycling paint. "It's consistent with family medicine values to be part of a community."
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