Things to do on your next vacation: change the world

Here's a change of pace for your next vacation: instead of seeingthe world, why not try to change it? Become an internationalvolunteer.

Here's a change of pace for your next vacation: instead of seeing the world, why not try to change it? Become an international volunteer.

Since that first trip to Bulgaria, at least once a year he packs up his PowerPoint presentations and leaves his practice in Houston to share his knowledge and skills with ophthalmologists in other nations eager for new information. He has been to Bulgaria three times, examined and treated patients in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the siege in 1993, and made five trips to Albania and three to Romania. He has also been to Iraq, Afghanistan, and recently took his first trip to Mongolia.

Not just healing

When people think of volunteering, they think only of going to developing nations and performing hundreds of cataract surgeries, he said. But volunteering is not just about healing, it's also about teaching and learning.

"It's probably only half teaching; the other half is learning," he said. From his experiences Dr. Butner has learned different ways to organize clinics, how to save money by recycling materials, new ways to handle the doctor/patient relationship, simpler methods for re-attaching the retina, and how to rig a telescope and flashlight together to make an indirect ophthalmoscope.

Then there are the benefits that have nothing to do with ophthalmology: getting to know other ophthalmologists, being invited into their homes, learning about their lives and culture.

Creating a registry

Marilyn T. Miller, MD, knows what it's like to be "bitten by the bug" of volunteerism.

She began her international activities in 1982 when she visited a rural eye clinic in Nigeria, and hasn't slowed down since. Eager to spread her enthusiasm among her colleagues, Dr. Miller helped create the International Volunteer Registry in 1991 specifically for physicians like Dr. Butner who were interested in volunteering but didn't know how to get started. Once physicians make a connection with the registry, many no longer need the service. Enthusiastic and confident, they go on to organize their own international activities.

Now that the registry (recently re-named the EyeCare Volunteer Registry) is online, making that initial connection is even easier. After registering on our Web site, http://www.eyecarevolunteer.org/, you will receive an instant e-mail providing you with a password, allowing you to initiate the search. You can learn about sites that match your particular interests and skills, including geographic preferences, length of service, type of service (teaching, medical, or surgical), and specialized training and experience (subspecialty skills).

Natural extension

Dr. Miller sees the registry as a natural extension of the academy's mission to advance lifelong learning among ophthalmologists to ensure patients get the best possible eye care. If you think a couple of weeks abroad is too small a contribution to support this mission, think again.

Dr. Miller may have begun her work in a small clinic in Nigeria, but now she focuses on education and teaching because she knows it will affect the lives of more people in the long term. She has traveled to India on multiple occasions to teach in academic centers and has established long-term collaborations with colleagues there.