Community service initiative brings neurosurgery faculty, staff, learners and trainees together
Members of the Lillian S. Wells department of neurosurgery participate in a different project each month
Nov. 8, 2022 — The colleagues spread out in the pasture, ready to get to work under the bright spring sun. One hauls away a pile of branches while another rides a golf cart to survey the debris. Normally accustomed to focusing on human patients, this group has turned its attention toward a different breed, clearing pastures of Mill Creek Farm to remove hazards for the elderly and sometimes blind residents of the Retirement Home for Horses.
When they’re done with the task at hand, the volunteers will get to nuzzle horses and feed them apples and carrots. It’s all in a month’s work for members of the Lillian S. Wells department of neurosurgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
As part of a community service initiative launched by Brian Hoh, M.D., M.B.A., when he became chair in 2018, department members participate in different projects each month, from serving food to those experiencing homelessness and putting together care packages for military members to collecting school supplies for children in need and taking part in breast cancer awareness walks. The entire department is invited to join, from clinical and research faculty and staff to residents, fellows and students.
“I thought it was important for the department to engage with the community,” Hoh said. “It’s a way for faculty, staff, trainees and students to roll up their sleeves and work side by side to help our community in a setting where there is no hierarchy. We’re all part of the team giving back. We’ve had a lot of fun, too.”
Hoh gave leadership of the initiative to neurosurgery associate professors Catherine Flores, Ph.D., and Maryam Rahman, M.D., M.S., and to date the department has assisted 32 organizations, including Ronald McDonald House, Grace Marketplace, Pace Center for Girls, Food4Kids Backpack Program of North Florida, Project Downtown Gainesville and Hoops for Hope.
Ideas for nonprofits to support come from various places, and all members of the department are welcome to pitch suggestions. Sometimes, local and world events shape a particular month’s focus — such as in October, when the department raised funds for World Central Kitchen in the wake of Hurricane Ian to help provide meals for those displaced by the storm.
“The two things I find most rewarding about this initiative are helping the community and also sharing that experience with people in the department who I wouldn’t normally cross paths with in my daily work,” said Flores, noting that sometimes a little friendly rivalry is added to the mix through competitions between groups to see who can donate the most items to a particular cause. “It reminds us that there’s a whole world outside UF, and because the projects we select are so diverse, every month we get to serve a different aspect of the community and learn about that aspect.”
For Rahman, she finds participating in service projects such as Project Downtown Gainesville to be fulfilling because she gets to meet and interact with the community and give back in a tangible way.
“This initiative creates true camaraderie within our department and lets the people in the community know that we do more than just neurosurgery,” she said.
Have an idea for a service project? The College of Medicine community is invited to share suggestions with the department by contacting Flores at Catherine.Flores@neurosurgery.ufl.edu.