Ronald Holt, DO, MPA, DFAPA, SFSU Student Health Psychiatrist, KCU Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
As physicians, we are all trained to heal. Each one of us has unique knowledge, skills, and abilities to help others.
The practice of medicine can lead to a fulfilling life. Each of us can decide how much money we make based on the amount of our life we are willing to sacrifice. But what if there is something, besides the practice of medicine, where we can make an equal, and more substantial, impact on the communities we serve? My article today is about how community service can affect society and us.
I want to share my personal journey of how I got involved with community service. I hope my story will encourage each of you to follow your heart, both inside and outside of the office – even when it leads you off the well-worn path.
Growing up as a closeted gay person in the conservative Midwest heavily influenced my journey.
Several years into my employment as a psychiatrist, I felt like something was missing in my life. I allowed this nagging sense of emptiness to speak to me and open my heart and mind to what has become a deep calling.
Outside of work as a psychiatrist, I focused on helping those who were struggling with growing up gay. When I was young, my father bullied me for being gay. As a result, I never want another child to go through what I went through.
My community service began twenty years ago at my alma mater in rural northeast Nebraska. Having been a closeted gay student-athlete in the 1980s brought to light what LGBTQ+ students face. My goal is to help students, both gay and straight, have a better understanding of how homophobia damages everyone.
My first community service talk was in front of twelve students in a psychology class. I was a guest speaker talking on LGBTQ+ issues and civil rights. It took tremendous courage for me to speak publicly about being gay in rural America, a topic I avoided when I was a young student. There was a heavy presence of religious conservatives in the room that day who voiced the stance that homosexuality was an “abomination,” even as they proclaimed to “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
Although that first presentation in 2000 was not a positive experience, it reinforced the need for education on this topic. I pressed on, and over the years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of audiences across the country on all things LGBTQ+.
Over the years I’ve received hundreds of comments on how my community service has helped others. I am deeply moved each time I receive messages like these, as they remind me just how important community service is.
Helping others through community service was so rewarding that in 2017, I took the plunge and left my full-time employment of 20 years to focus on writing, publishing, educating, and self-care. It was the best decision I have ever made in my life! I now work part-time as a SFSU psychiatrist, which allows me to truly thrive on an academic campus. I am thrilled to report my job allows me flexibility to earn an M.A. in Sexuality. This educational opportunity will certainly open more doors to both nourish my soul and expand my ability to serve.
I can honestly say transitioning from corporate run medicine to being a student health psychiatrist has allowed me to become my truest, most authentic self: Something I so longed for when I was young. I never thought I could say this, but my occupation now aligns with my deep calling to service.
Although volunteerism often does not bring material wealth, it brings something that is much more valuable. I believe that community service brings more wealth than money ever could.
I have a deep conviction that we as physicians are here to help those who, for various reasons, are not yet able to help themselves. I believe we are called upon to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves. Each day brings with it new opportunities to save or alter a life through our compassion, mentoring, and education.
In his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I hope that by sharing my journey into community service, you will find the spark within you to follow your heart and intuition to make the world a better place.
© 2014 Northern California Psychiatric Society