Last night on CBS Evening News' "Assignment America", Steve Hartman introduced the nation to a very unusual doctor. In Pittsburgh, Dr. Jim Withers devotes his medical practice to the homeless---street people, derelicts, bums. The riff-raff of society. And he doesn't charge them a penny.
Dr. Withers has been doing this humanitarian work since 1992. He does it through a non-profit he started, Operation Safety Net. Because of his efforts and those of his team, the homeless population in Pittsburgh has been cut in half.
Whatever money Dr. Withers makes comes from grants and from teaching at a medical school. He treats every kind of illness, physical, emotional, psychological. He does not forget that each patient is a person. Empathy and kindness are at the core of his 'streetside' manner.
In 1937, the British writer, A. J. Cronin wrote about a doctor, Andrew Manson, in "The Citadel". Dr. Manson started out with high ideals, but was seduced by the prospects of wealth. Eventually he has an epiphany and rejects his shallow materialistic professional lifestyle. This is how he summed up his change of heart: "Perhaps, I've gone off my rocker. But I'm going to try and stop thinking of money and material success. That isn't the test of a good doctor. When a doctor earns five thousand a year, he's not healthy. And why---why should a man try to make money out of suffering humanity?"
When he makes his rounds, Dr. Withers probably asks the very same question.
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