Why Humanitarian Work is Good – For Me and You!

Many people, friends and patients alike, often ask me why I do so much humanitarian work. Since 1996, the Face the Future™ Foundation, of which I am President, has sent dozens of surgeons and nurses around the world to treat thousands of children with facial deformities. I myself have been on 28 missions.

From a medical perspective, there are so many children – and adults – in less developed countries suffering from facial deformities and other medical conditions. Most of these patients would never receive the care they need were it not for our teams. Most physicians go into medicine to care for and help others, and so the magnitude of need in these countries leaves me with a great sense of professional satisfaction of an important job well done.

I also love to teach, and our missions are organized so that we teach local surgeons both basic and advanced diagnostic and surgical techniques. This is done in clinics, side-by-side in the operating room, and with academic lectures and informal discussions. As each of us becomes more expert in our own chosen field, I believe it is an important part of our professional legacy to teach and mentor. Certainly I do this at home through my leading our Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Toronto, but overseas is a unique experience. This is especially true because the surgeons and nurses in these countries have very few such opportunities to learn. They are intelligent and committed but simply lack our experience and knowledge. And so they are keen students, learn quickly, and are highly grateful – what more could a teacher ask for?

And, finally, I must confess that one of the reasons I do so much humanitarian work is a selfish one. It is true that you feel better being a giver than a taker. That the more you give the more you receive. Studies have shown that performing humanitarian work of any sort increases your endorphin levels (the “feel good” hormones). Even better, when later you just think of your efforts, your endorphin levels also increase. Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving!

I believe that each of us has our own “unique abilities,” and that we can each in our own way, small or large, make the world a better place. How can you contribute, and at the same time increase your own happiness?

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