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NCPHP scholarships save careers, lives

Image for NCPHP scholarships save careers, lives Those of us in the fields of counseling, psychiatry, psychology and other helping professions must often confront the benign resignation that not everyone can be helped. It doesn't mean that we stop trying; in fact, my experience is that it makes us try that much harder to help those who can be helped. When an individual acts to help patients who otherwise would not get the care they desperately need, I think that person should be recognized.

This column is a public 'Thank You' to Janelle Rhyne, MD, a recent past president of the NC Medical Board. Dr. Rhyne completed her term on the Board in October 2009 and currently practices in Wilmington, where she is on the staff of the county Public Health Department.

During Dr. Rhyne's term as Board president in 2008, the Board approved a change to the NCMB's annual registration renewal questionnaire that allows licensees to contribute to a private scholarship fund. Managed by the NC Physicians Health Program, the fund helps defray the cost of medical providers’ alcohol/substance abuse assessment and treatment fees. Although a scholarship does not cover a recipients' entire treatment cost, it may cover enough to open the door--leading to a new way of life and restoring function as a medical professional. Once in treatment, it is up to the professional to prove they want recovery.

Since the fund was established, the response has been overwhelming. During the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression, scholarship donations have actually increased. In 2009, licensees of the NCMB donated more than $100,000, funding 50 NCPHP scholarships. These awards were critical in helping participants who otherwise would not have been able to get help. Participants have gone to treatment, obtained professional evaluations or seen therapists as a result of donors' generosity. I always knew that physicians and PAs were giving people. This proves it.

It would not be overstating to say that donations from NCMB licensees have saved lives and salvaged wrecked careers. As clinical director of NCPHP, I hear on a daily basis the heart-rending stories of professionals who have succumbed to the disease of alcoholism or addiction, battled with major depression, or in some way betrayed the ideals of their profession. Often destitute and hopeless, these people are desperate for help. I have experienced the following reactions to the NCMB-funded scholarship fund: a destitute PA sobbing with gratitude at being able to get treatment; innumerable statements of thanks from participants; and handwritten letters of thanks from those participating in treatment. In addition, staff members at multiple treatment centers have commented that they wish other states supported impaired medical professionals the way North Carolina does.

Dr. Rhyne is an unassuming person and I’m sure she would say that establishing the NCPHP scholarship fund was a Board effort. But in organizations such as the Medical Board with numerous competing priorities, it's easy even for worthy ideas to get lost in the shuffle.

The fact is that the Board President sets the Board's agenda and is key to helping specific initiatives along. Dr. Rhyne recognized the need for a scholarship program and championed the cause. The
Board unanimously approved the fund’s creation, and licensees have risen admirably to the call to help their colleagues in need. I applaud Dr. Rhyne for the way her actions and thoughtfulness have helped others to help themselves.
You need not wait until you renew your license to make a donation. Gifts to the PHP Scholarship Fund may be sent directly to the address below. Make checks to NCPHP and be sure to identify your
contribution as a gift to the fund.
220 Horizon Drive, Ste. 201
Raleigh, NC 27615

NC Physicians Health Program is a not-for-profi t organization that provides assessment, referral, monitoring, educational and support services for impaired medical professionals. Referrals to NCPHP are confidential. Licensees may remain anonymous, including to the Medical Board, as long as NCPHP can establish they are safe to practice, or have withdrawn themselves from practice while in treatment.