When I was a third-year medical student, I volunteered at a free clinic in a small coastal town. One of my patients, a young man, had a large cyst in the middle of his forehead that stuck out like a horn. He had been living with it for years and taken to wearing a bandana headband to hide it. He told me that he didn’t like to go out or be seen because he was embarrassed. We removed the cyst, and I will never forget the smile on his face when he came back to have the sutures removed. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a lifesaving procedure, but it was certainly life-changing.

I am currently a volunteer physician and board member at the Oasis Free Clinics in Brunswick. Oasis provides free primary care, dental care and prescription assistance to adults in our community who are low income and uninsured. I first started volunteering at Oasis out of a sense of giving back. Within our community, health insurance was becoming less affordable with higher deductibles, fewer people were receiving MaineCare as our former governor was reducing federal assistance, and there was a growing number of people without health insurance or health care. I felt the need to contribute beyond financial donations. I have come to realize that my volunteering was actually paying it forward as my contribution was not only improving the lives of the patients I was seeing, it was and is enhancing my own life.

Studies show that having primary care in a community leads to longer life expectancies reflecting a healthier community in general. The people who come to Oasis for health and dental care are real people — our neighbors, our friends and our community. Unfortunately, no one is immune to needing Oasis’ services. Even people who work one or even two jobs may not have health insurance or the means to pay for medical treatment. Oasis serves not only the individual but also the community as a whole by helping people get and stay healthy, which benefits us all in the long run.

Being a doctor is a difficult job to be sure. Doctors of all specialties deal with stress and pressure from many directions, but being a doctor is also very rewarding. For me, what is most rewarding is the long-term relationships I have been privileged enough to have with my patients. Everyone has a story, and I love to hear and listen to them all. Volunteering at the Oasis Free Clinic is no different. My life has been enriched by the stories and the gratitude of the people I care for.

Fortunately, our new governor has expanded MaineCare, providing more people the opportunity to have health insurance. Yet Oasis remains a medical home to over 600 people in our community. Oasis always faces new challenges including the New Mainers who have moved to our community seeking asylum. Thanks to our dedicated staff, volunteers and Board members, we continue to rise to these challenges and hope to continue to provide a very important service to our community.

Our community is rooted in supporting each other. Within our community, four non-profit organizations are looking out for people in need: Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, Tedford Housing, The Gathering Place and Oasis Free Clinics. I hope you will consider supporting one or all of them this year in whatever way you would like to contribute.

Dr. David B. Inger is a volunteer at Oasis Free Clinics. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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