COMMENTARY from Doc Thoughts

Nonprofit Work: Burnout Prevention for Students and Doctors?

Nirmal R. Gosalia


January 23, 2018

Editor's Note: DocThoughts' Host, Nirmal Gosalia, invited Dr. Byron Scott, an emergency medicine physician and member of the board of directors for Direct Relief, to discuss the rewarding nature of nonprofit work and how it may help prevent future burnout. For more conversations with thought-leaders in healthcare visit

Nirmal Gosalia: Many of us began our careers with an altruistic mindset. We wanted to leverage our medical training to help others overcome disease and despair, but because of such a long career path, it's easy to lose sight of this original goal. So why is it important that we make time for nonprofit work without feeling overburdened?

Today, we're sitting down with Dr. Byron Scott, an EM physician by training who also sits on the board of directors for Direct Relief. Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization that has also been ranked number one of top 10 charities changing the world by CNBC in 2016, as well as top 10 largest charities by Forbes. Alright, let's hear Dr. Scott's take on this.

Nirmal Gosalia: Thank you so much for joining us on Doc Thoughts, Dr. Scott.

Dr. Byron Scott: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Nirmal Gosalia: What value can nonprofit work provide for physicians and medical students?

Dr. Byron Scott: So I think for physicians and medical students, we always get very busy in a lot of the work that we do day to day, between studying between doing rotations as a resident medical student. But I think doing this work… We sometimes can get so busy we lose focus in terms of what we're really here to do, which is to take care of patients and to be compassionate. I think providing work with various nonprofit organizations, whether it's healthcare or not, can help remind us of why we're here as a physician, as a medical student, to provide help for others that have a need.

Nirmal Gosalia: Why did you decide to get involved in not-for-profit work?

Dr. Byron Scott: So I would say I've always thought of ways to give back to communities because I honestly believe that we're all inspired to give back to others. My involvement, historically, has typically been just donating money you know over the years because of given time constraints. But in recent times, [I] became involved in several organizations, and one of them was called Direct Relief, and the scope of the work they do is to provide relief to people across the US and every 50 states and also globally, in 86 countries. And they also provide aid to about 1,300 safety net clinic within the US too. When you talk about the 1,300 safety net clinics, it's really tremendous value to help a lot of the communities within the US and help support a lot of the hospitals and health systems.

Nirmal Gosalia: How has your time with Direct Relief shaped your career as a physician?

Dr. Byron Scott: So it's interesting, I look at this time in my career, which I really am very passionate about physician leadership. Physicians are great clinicians, they're great leaders, and a lot of these nonprofit health care organizations do not have the resources to hire experts and so offering opinions and expertise that are things that are going on in healthcare, especially the politics of healthcare today. So as a physician leader, being very involved in healthcare and aware to the current issues, I can help provide value, where otherwise, they may not necessarily have someone within that organization to do that.

Nirmal Gosalia: Can you speak to Direct Relief's recent accomplishments and providing both national and global aid?

Dr. Byron Scott: Yeah, so Direct Relief is an international humanitarian medical aid organization. To give you an idea the scale and scope of what they've done, just last year alone they've donated over $920 million in medical aid to organizations around the world and within US, which includes about 13,000 deliveries, includes over 2,000 tons of medical supplies, vaccinations, and also pharmaceutical drugs. Direct relief partners with about 150 pharmaceutical companies and medical manufacturers that actually donate the medicines, vaccines, the supplies that we turn around and give away. So, if you look at natural disasters within the world, if there's been one in recent times, Direct Relief has probably been there. I think one of the disasters that occurred about a year ago was the hurricane relief work that was done in Haiti. Direct Relief was there on the ground providing support with its medical aid, and a lot of it has to do with the organization has already prepositioned medical supplies along that hurricane belt every year. So they can rapidly bring it in to wherever there's a disaster, like a hurricane in those areas.

Nirmal Gosalia: As physician burnout rates are on the rise, getting involved in nonprofit work might be seen as an added burden. What are some things that we can do to balance our clinical duties alongside non-for-profit commitments to avoid getting burnt out?

Dr. Byron Scott: Right, so it's actually bring up burnout because it's an important topic in healthcare right now for physicians and nurses alike. But I think burnout can be seen as a couple of things. Sometimes it involves not allowing yourself enough time to do the things that you enjoy. But it also can involve situations where individuals are burnt out because they may not necessarily be enjoying what they're doing. So being involved in a nonprofit organization—because you've got to remember it's an organization that you're gonna choose to work with that meshes with your particular beliefs and values. Which can be, I think, a very rewarding thing to help sometimes augment some of the stresses and strains that go through the daily lives of being a medical student or young physician or just a practicing physician in the community.


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