Central Florida-based Shepherd's Hope is the largest free and charitable clinic in Florida, providing access to high quality, compassionate medical care at five health center locations through the assistance of 2,400 medical and general volunteers. The organization provides 18,000-plus free patient visits and medical services annually to the uninsured and underinsured in our area.
Meet Philip Styne, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist and internal medicine physician who has been volunteering with Shepherd's Hope since 2010 and has been honored as a Volunteer of the Year. Last year, he and the Shepherd's Hope team established a monthly clinic at the Longwood location to specifically treat diseases and disorders of the liver, predominantly Hepatitis C.
Styne, was born in Long Island and moved shortly thereafter to Miami, Florida where he grew up until he became an undergraduate at Tulane University. He received an honors degree in engineering with membership in Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society. Subsequently, he attended the University of Miami Medical School graduating as a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.
He completed Internal Medicine residency at the University of Florida and a Gastroenterology and Hepatology fellowship at the University of Colorado.
Dr. Styne has shared his thoughts concerning his career and time spent with Shepherd's Hope.
- Why did you choose the medical profession and gastroenterology as a specialty?
I'm a math guy, so I originally chose an engineering major at Tulane University because it was easy. But, it didn't really satisfy my need to help people. While doing an engineering research assignment at the medical school, they encouraged me to apply. It required going back and taking Biology 101 during my senior year, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There was a mentor I really liked during my residency at the University of Florida who happened to be a gastroenterologist. That's frequently how it happens in medicine. I went on to get advanced fellowship training in gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Colorado.
- Tell us about your medical practice; where you work and what you do.
I'm currently the associate chief medical informatics officer (CMIO) for Florida Hospital Orlando. I also maintain a clinical practice at the Florida Hospital Liver Transplant Center where I served as director several years ago.
Liver disease has always interested me, going all the way back to my early years as a National Institute of Health and VA funded investigator where my area of gastroenterology research was the liver.
- Why did you choose to volunteer at Shepherd's Hope?
A coworker at Florida Hospital was a Shepherd's Hope volunteer and suggested I come do the same. It was as simple as that. And, it really is that simple in terms of the logistics of becoming a volunteer. Shepherd's Hope makes it really, really easy.
But, more importantly for me, Shepherd's Hope provides a venue to give back to the community and provide medical care to those who otherwise can't access it. Without the infrastructure they provide - from the physical facility to the personnel - I wouldn't have the opportunity to do that. It is an incredible gift.
- Talk about the volunteer work you do with Shepherd's Hope.
I volunteer once a month at the Longwood clinic. At first, I was performing general GI and other medical procedures, but as additional gastroenterologists started volunteering at the clinic, I decided to shift my focus to liver disease. A Shepherd's Hope administrator suggested I start a liver clinic, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me.
With the support of Health Center Manager Tom Higgins, Health Information Manager Michele Schott and Quality Improvement Director Gina Johnson, the liver clinic in Longwood has been very successful. While we treat all manner of liver disease, a substantial percentage of the patients have Hepatitis C.
What makes the clinic unique is the longitudinal care we can provide. Not only do we get patients tested, but we also provide the treatment they need. The clinic staff is extremely successful at getting drug companies to provide therapies for these patients. We have treated an innumerable number and many have been literally cured.
When we treat Hepatitis C patients, we are also treating the community. Less of the disease that's out there means less risk that others will get it, both the indigent population and those who have the means to pay for their health care. Those of us who treat Hepatitis C are very aware of the idea that we may be able to dramatically reduce - even eliminate - this disease through aggressive treatment of current patients.
- Is there a memorable patient encounter that is especially meaningful to you?
There was a homeless man last summer who we were treating for Hepatitis C. Providing his therapy was a challenge. The pharmaceutical companies want to mail the drug directly to patients, but he did not have a home address to send it to, so the staff arranged for it to be sent to the clinic. This patient had become like family to us. As hurricane Irma approached in September, we all became very concerned, wondering where he would ride out the storm and whether he would he be able to keep his medication safe.
- When you're not working or volunteering with Shepherd's Hope, what do you enjoy doing?
I actively sail all around the country, from our local lakes to New England and California. I also enjoy spending time with my grandkids.
The number of uninsured and underinsured patients who seek medical care from Shepherd's Hope is increasing with every passing year. And, each year, some have to be turned away because there are not enough volunteer licensed healthcare professionals like Styne. The organization's capacity was further strained beyond the breaking point last year when an estimated 200,000 Puerto Rican Americans evacuated to Central Florida following hurricane Maria and needed access to many services, including healthcare.
Nationwide, more than 90 percent of physicians believe that volunteering -- specifically helping their community's poorest patients -- is vital for their jobs, yet only 39 percent volunteer their time.
Shepherd's Hope requires many more volunteer doctors, nurses and other licensed health care professionals than ever before to help fill the immense and growing capacity demands in order to continue to fulfill its mission. To learn more about how to become a Shepherd's Hope volunteer, contact Volunteer Program Manager Abby Seelinger at (407) 876-6699, ext. 233, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.shepherdshope.org/volunteers.