A Message from Janice G. Drake, Founder of the Janice Drake CRNA Humanitarian Award

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A while back, I ran across an anonymous story about a farmer known for growing the best corn in his area.  Each year he entered his corn in the state fair, and each year he won a blue ribbon.

A local newspaper reporter wanted to do a story on the farmer’s record so he asked him for the secret to his award-winner corn.  To the reporter’s surprise, the farmer said that his secret was that he shared his seed corn with every other farmer who lived nearby.

“How can you do that?” the reporter asked.  “Your neighbors could enter their corn and maybe beat you.”

The farmer just smiled and said, “You need to understand something.  In the spring, the wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and spreads it from one field to another.  If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn.  If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn too.”

The farmer understood a basic premise of life.  When you help others, you’re also helping yourself.

My venture in starting this endowment comes from past and present life experiences.  It is not necessary for you to know all the reasons that I created this endowment, but you have a right to know the main ones.

First, I have been an anesthetist for approximately 38 years, working for the UAB Hospital for over 20 years, and various group and solo practices.  Let’s be honest, our profession is rather lucrative.  Our incomes are considerably better than that of the average person.  Demand and expectation for higher salary seems to be the norm for anesthesia professionals.  Greed in the anesthesia field is destroying us as individuals and professionally.  I am ashamed at how much the demand for increased financial status is consuming our profession.  What has happened to our humanitarian pursuit?  It is my observations that, as CRNA’s, we are depicting an image of grandiose ideas of self worth to society.  Often new candidates’ reason for pursuing a career in anesthesia is motivated by the dollar.  I am disconcerted and ashamed by that image of us as anesthetists.  The whole purpose of our life should not be just to make money, but to matter, to make a difference and to be useful to others.  As Winston Churchill once noted, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  It would be my desire that for a service to be truly humanitarian, that it reflect selfless giving with no compensation from their employer other than the use of vacation days for the time off during the volunteer activity. 

The second reason I wanted to provide this endowment is because, like many of you, I’ve faced some personal tragedies.  My only sister died from cancer at the age of 54.  In March, 2008, I lost my youngest son to suicide.  Then in March, 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and a stress fracture of my food.  Yet these tragedies pale in comparison to people who have lost their entire family to hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.  These seem hardly worth mentioning when compared to those victims of genocide in remote lands.  Grief and loss never end, but God’s mercies are new each day.  Ted Kennedy said, “Even our most profound losses are survivable.”  Philosopher William James once wrote that people should “Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.”  That statement is particularly appropriate for our profession.   Our profession holds the power of life or death, or relief from pain and suffering.  That is a powerful role in the medical profession, and we should never underestimate what we can do for others.

My third reason for establishing an Endowment for Humanitarian service stems from the resistance I personally encountered in trying to pursue humanitarian service following retirement.   I contacted locum agencies, individual hospitals, and volunteer agencies, many outside the United States.  My offer was to work where there was a need, but not for salary or any financial remuneration.  In the U.S., I was told I could not work and not be paid.  I could donate the money I received, but had to be paid.  I did not want any tax liability.  Doctors without Borders gave me hope, except that I could not physically do the year of required service.  I do not feel that one’s adherence to a specific religion or doctrine, or lack thereof should be a determining factor as to the sincerity of one’s desire nor ability to reach out in any humanitarian venture.  It is my hope that what we do will be a reflection of our inner ideals, selfless giving, love and respect for people who have the right to hold their own religion or practice of worship.  This endowment will provide a way for CRNA’s to pursue humanitarian service.

My opportunity finally presented in March, 2010.  I received a call from a member of the University of Miami/Project Medishare Field Hospital.  They requested I come for a week and give anesthesia in a field hospital set up at the end of the runway at Port-au-Price airport, Haiti.  The project was funded by a Charitable Trust set up by the University of Miami.  I did not need to think about it, and was on a plane to Miami four days later.  While there I worked 24/7, including “call”.  It was rewarding and yet a painful experience to see so many people with unending needs; time so short, yet I gave all that was possible. The success of my trip was not measured by wealth, status, or knowledge.  People don’t want to know what you know or what your religious beliefs are only that you care.  Most of us are comfortable with ourselves if we are in our own home or our own backyard.  We need to look beyond ourselves.

My fourth reason for establishing the Humanitarian Endowment comes from the understanding of the word “WEALTH”.  I was already award that greed in the anesthesia field was destroying us as individuals and professionally.  I am ashamed at how much the demand for increased financial status is consuming our profession.  What has happened to our humanitarian pursuit?  I was aware of the reality, but what could I do?  For the last six years I have closely worked with an Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney from Birmingham, Alabama.  Kendall has guided me in setting up several Trusts and Estate Planning.  During one of our sessions we were reviewing various financial portfolios.  I remember my thoughts fixating on whether I would actually have enough assets to live on in later years.  I finally just blurted out,  “Will I have sufficient funds to life on in the future?”  This was followed by an uncomfortable period of silence.  Finally, Kendall responded by asking, “What would it take for you to consider yourself wealthy?”  I sat silently and could not come up with a response.  Then he asked, “If you had a choice of when you wanted to be wealthy would it be when you are young or when you are old?”  That answer came quickly, “When I’m old of course!”  Then he asked, “Are your needs being met now?”  I thought a minute and responded by saying “yes”, but quickly interjected “but my lifestyle was basically frugal and simple.”  So what is the point of the story, you ask?  He ended the conversation by saying, “You are wealthy if all your needs are met.”  What a simple statement, but how profound.  WE ARE WEALTHY IF OUR NEEDS ARE MET.  This conversation enabled me to view my life outside the “Box”.  My entire life is a gift that should be shared with others. 

My venture in starting this endowment comes from all my past and what I feel is a need.  I would desire that through this, previous doors of greed would be closed and a new door of giving unconditionally to others would be opened.  It is with the love of my profession and the love of mankind that I want “The Janice Drake CRNA Humanitarian Endowment” to thrive and touch many lives.  Perhaps Sir Wilfred Grenfeld, a medical missionary, summed it up best when he wrote that “Real joy comes not from ease of riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile.”  My hope is that this endowment will make it easier for people to do something worthwhile, something that will help relieve the pain and suffering of others. 

I want to thank you for the opportunity to stand before you and share my dream.  One that has culminated out of my life experiences in anesthesia and my life’s journey over bridges of tears.  Live your days inspired anew.  It is with honor and humility that I present the Janice G. Drake Endowment for Humanitarian Service. 

My “HEART AND HANDS GO WITH YOU” throughout your journeys. 

Janice G. Drake, CRNA