A middle-aged doctor from Greater Kaohsiung who gave up a lucrative career 16 years ago to become a volunteer healthcare consultant for the elderly says that despite earning nothing, the invaluable friendships he has forged with his patients have enriched him spiritually.
Sixteen years ago, when Kuo En-fang (郭恩芳) was an attending doctor at the Kaohsiung Municipal Min Sheng Hospital, he signed up for a pro-bono program to be a healthcare consultant for the Greater Kaohsiung Senior Citizens Center.
Although the volunteer program met with a lukewarm response from his colleagues, it opened Kuo’s eyes to the lasting fulfilment brought by non-material wealth.
Because Kuo only provides medical consults, not treatment, he has ample time to hold in-depth discussions with each patient about their ailments.
Kuo said the appreciation he sees on his patients’ faces gives him a deep sense of achievement and fulfilment.
“Personal gain is the least important consideration for me when I’m seeing to the needs of my grey-haired ‘fan base.’ The spiritual contentment attained from the process is something that money cannot buy,” Kuo said.
Kuo said the bonds created between him and his patients have transcended from the ordinary doctor-patient relationship to genuine friendship.
“Without the usual barrier between physicians and patients created by the ever-present potential for conflicts of interest, I have been able to resolve my patients’ healthcare issues through conversations about such things as the actual effects of health supplements and recommended dosages for chronic diseases,” he said.
He added that he also helps interpret his patient’s physical examination reports and gives his “elderly friends” healthcare advice.
Kuo’s friendship with his patients has also given him a different perspective on death, which he had been accustomed to seeing regularly when he worked at the hospital.
Citing as an example an elderly man who had been a frequent patient, but had not used the service for years, Kuo said he was overcome with sobs when he suddenly realized that the man may have passed away long ago.
“I was deeply saddened by the thought and started lamenting about the transience of life,” Kuo said.
While working without getting paid seems like an impossible sacrifice for most, Kuo’s position allows him to work in a relatively relaxed environment, become acquainted with many interesting people and learn from their philosophies of life, Kuo said.
“These gains may not be immediately apparent, but they are valuable treasures,” he added.
Kuo has a son and a daughter, both of whom are dentists, but neither of them volunteer at the center.
When asked if he was worried about not having anyone to pass the volunteer torch to, Kuo said it did not bother him because he has enough savings and energy to continue his volunteer service until the day he can no longer get out of bed.