Dr. Thomas E. Moody
In 2006, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition graded states on how they were dealing with prostate cancer. Alabama received an "F." Why? The state did not require insurance companies to cover prostate cancer screenings, too few men were getting screened, and the state's death rate from prostate cancer was the third-highest in the country.
The grade "really bugged me," says urologist Thomas Moody, MD, 64, whose Birmingham clinic is the largest urology practice in Alabama. "I immediately saw it as an opportunity and an obligation."
Moody had already created a nonprofit to educate physicians about prostate cancer. In 2006 he renamed it the Urology Health Foundation, and changed its mission to promote public awareness about the disease and provide statewide free screenings, especially in underserved communities. So far, Moody's team has screened more than 3,500 men and found numerous cancers. "If we find a problem, we don't just tell them to take care of it," Moody says. "We help them."
Moody also worked to get the state to pass a 2007 law requiring insurance companies to cover screenings. "Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among US men," Moody says. "If we detect and treat it early, we can reduce the death rate. That's why I'm a strong advocate for screening."
Moody himself goes to most of the weekend screenings. He likes meeting people, especially in far-flung rural areas. "I don't play golf well or much," he adds modestly. "So this has become my hobby."
Ellen L. Beck, M.D.
Since 1997, the Student-Run Free Clinics set up by Ellen Beck, MD, have helped more than 7,500 underserved and uninsured patients in San Diego. The clinics, which operate at four sites, are staffed by students training to go into health professions, as well as law and social work. They provide primary care services, 17 areas of specialty care (including cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, ophthalmology, acupuncture, and psychiatry), plus health education, referrals to legal and social services, medications, and restorative dental work – all for free.
Beck, 59, a clinical professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, UCSD School of Medicine, launched the clinics to provide humanistic learning environments for both patients and students. "We want to reach the people who have fallen through the cracks, who have no access to care," she explains. "And we want to teach students how to be respectful, empathetic, and self aware in their practices."
Her program is very popular. More than 1,000 UCSD medical students have taken free clinic electives that teach this philosophy and the skills to provide high-quality care to people who might otherwise go without it. And more than 135 doctors across the country have taken her three-week national faculty development course, which includes training in how to establish student-run clinics. About 15 student-run clinics have been set up based on her model. Funding comes from a variety of state, federal, and private foundations (including the WebMD Health Foundation).
"Our medical students arrive with passion, compassion, and a desire to make a difference for patients," she says. "But the medical system often beats it out of them. Our program keeps those dreams alive and gives them the tools to provide that kind of humanitarian care in their own practices."
Unlike some people who receive a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis after years of pain, fruitless doctors' visits, and no answers, Kelly Young, 46, wasn't relieved five years ago. Instead, her response was "Oh, no." That's because she knew enough about the disease to know it is chronic and degenerative. And when she went online to learn more, "I couldn't find any one place for good information," she says. "There was no one site that was easy for patients to access and had accurate, easy-to-understand information."
Young also noticed discrepancies between what patients say about RA and how doctors describe the disease. So in 2009, the home-schooling mother of five in Cocoa, Florida, launched Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior (RAwarrior.com) to educate and encourage patients while helping researchers and doctors learn more about what RA is really like. "There is so little funding and so little awareness about this disease," she notes. "I'm trying to create something uplifting, something that builds community."
Young has succeeded. Tens of thousands of people have visited her site since she started it two years ago. Her Facebook page has more than 11,000 fans and she has more than 3,300 followers on Twitter. But she hasn't stopped there. This year, she also set up the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation, the first nonprofit organization devoted to improving the lives of people with rheumatoid arthritis through research, public awareness, patient education, and advocacy.
"There's such a need here, it's like a bottomless pit," Young says. "But this is a start."
It's a tough time to be an advocate for play. Reduced recess time at schools, more TV and computer usage, and parents' fears about letting children outside alone means that "our children are playing less than any previous generation," says Darell Hammond, 40, the founder and chief executive officer of KaBOOM!, a nonprofit in Washington, DC that is devoted to saving play for children.
"This lack of play is causing kids profound physical, intellectual, social, and emotional harm. Without ample play, we will continue to see a decrease in creativity and imagination, as well as vital skills including curiosity, social skills, resiliency, and the ability to assess risk."
Hammond himself grew up in a group home outside Chicago, one blessed with 1,200 acres and "hundreds of trees to climb on." So in 1995, when he read about two children in Washington, DC, who had died while playing in an abandoned car, he established KaBOOM! and set a goal of providing a play space within walking distance of every child in the country.
To date, KaBOOM! has helped one million volunteers in 700 communities across North America get 2,000 playgrounds built, serving some 5.5 million kids. The organization has also created an online "Map of Play" that helps parents find local playgrounds and community leaders identify where more playgrounds need to be built.
"It's a joyous geography, showing where kids can climb and run, laugh and shout, learn and grow," Hammond says.