In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 17-23, United Way of Northeast Florida is highlighting outstanding community volunteers dedicated to making a difference all year long.
Dr. Brian Shapiro embodies the spirit of service through his dedication to the needs of the homeless, impoverished, and at-risk community. He shares his time and talent with Sulzbacher by consistently providing expert healthcare with compassion. In 2018, he took on the essential role of volunteer cardiologist and preceptor at Sulzbacher’s Federally Qualified Health Center, as well as the Sulzbacher Health Mobile which goes throughout the city providing urgently needed healthcare. Dr. Shapiro actively serves on the Board of Directors of Sulzbacher, as a representative from Mayo Clinic. His expertise, and that of Mayo Clinic, has been essential to the growth of health services provided by Sulzbacher.
Here’s what Dr. Shapiro has to say about being a Northeast Florida Changemaker:
My hero in medicine, and the one I’ve always modeled my career after, is C. Everett Koop. I read his autobiography at age 14 and was instantly captivated. He exemplified what it was to be a true academic physician which is to say a leader in the clinical realm, an innovative researcher, and an educator. As the surgeon general in the 1980s, he was able to accomplish incredible things and will be remembered as the greatest surgeon general in American history. Some may remember his impact on the AIDS epidemic and smoking cessation to name a few of his many accomplishments. I have always strived to be like him in my career although in no way anywhere near his success. While a national leader and healthcare champion, he always brought it back to the patient, hoping to ease suffering in his patients and others.
Having been fortunate enough to work at Mayo Clinic for the past 20 years, I have been blessed to work at an institution that puts the patient first and strives to achieve the highest level of care. When my son was ill with a rare disease as a toddler, Mayo established the diagnosis within days using sophisticated testing and rapid consultations with the experts and leaders in the field.
At Sulzbacher, I work with incredible providers and staff who also believe the patient comes first; however, so many of these patients do not have access to advanced care using sophisticated technology for treatments and access to experts. Would an underserved child in the community have received the same sophisticated testing and consultations that my son received? It is certainly possible, but would have been exceedingly difficult given the disparities of care. Thus, my passion for working at Sulzbacher is underscored by the ability to bring specialized cardiovascular care and advanced testing to patients who need them but do not have access or financial ability. We bring a team of physicians, nurses, and sonographers who absolutely love serving and being able to help these patients as we would desire at Mayo.
One of my first times at Sulzbacher, I passed a homeless man who was walking by me in the opposite direction with his head down. I stopped and greeted him and wished him well. At that point, he looked somewhat surprised and said to, “You were the first person to talk with me all day” and thanked me profusely for doing so. It was a very small act of kindness but it was huge for him. So often, homeless individuals have low self-esteem and crave human compassion much like all of us. I have been struck by the gratefulness of these patients each time I’m in the clinic that they are so appreciative of what I perceive is a small act of kindness.
I believe it is every physician’s responsibility to be champions in the community. Thus, when I go to Sulzbacher, I truly don’t believe that I’m doing anything beyond what should be expected of me. To get accepted into medical school is exceedingly difficult and every prospective student actively volunteers in the community. Typically, due to time constraints and the business of life, this typically does not continue long-term. Having sworn an oath at my graduation from medical school, I believe it is my responsibility to care for the underserved or any individual regardless of bias. I am blessed that the staff and team at Sulzbacher has let us fulfill this obligation.
I truly believe the vast majority of people want to do good things in this world and in our community, but often lack the means or understanding on how to accomplish this. Much of our success at Sulzbacher has little to do with me. I’ve just helped many of our staff realize what they wanted by providing them a platform and infrastructure. With their help, and that of educating future leaders, hopefully, we can produce an army of individuals who think in a similar manner which is to say that serving the community is a responsibility and privilege. Thus, the term “amplify good” means that someone generates an infrastructure, leads by example, then others ride their own initiative to participate and create their own individual contributions and successes.
Because change doesn’t happen alone, people like you are needed now more than ever to uplift the most vulnerable in our community. You can find a variety of community service projects at unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer.