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Doctors Making a Difference

(page 3 of 5)




“Everyone should carry a good pair of tweezers,” the doctor mused in emptying his pockets in what turned out to be a vain quest to produce a business card. Three pairs of tweezers, three identical pens, three pairs of reading glasses and a hodgepodge of miscellanea formed an ever-growing pile on the table.

“Yes,” I replied incredulously, “but three? Three tweezers?”

“Long story,” he winked. “I thought you wanted to talk about the Magis Clinic?”

Indeed I did. The fact that Dr. Jim Phalen is, needless to say, something of a character does not imply that he can’t keep an interview crisp and on point. The Magis Clinic provides free medical services and referrals to the homeless and uninsured. Founded and still led, managed and staffed by Creighton medical students, the clinic operates out of the Sienna/Francis House and is supported by Creighton University, the Hawks Foundation and Charles Drew. A cadre of almost 500 Creighton medical students is joined by 60 Creighton physicians every year in volunteering at the clinic.

“Magis” means “the more,” explained the assistant professor of radiology and director of abdominal imaging. The word is derived from Ad majorem Dei gloriam, the Jesuit motto that translates from the Latin to “for the greater glory of God.” The phrase refers to a philosophy of doing more for others through Christ.

“At first it seemed like the Magis Clinic was akin to the little Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike,” the doctor said as he slowly began to reload his pockets. “The problem was and still is so vast because – and this is a travesty – America’s access to healthcare is perhaps the worst among developed nations.”

Whether in terms of the number of tweezers an average guy needs to carry or in aspiring to re-sculpt the landscape of a community’s access to healthcare, Phalen seems to have a firm grasp on the essence of “the more.” Also a co-founder of both the Indian-Chicano Awareness Center (now OneWorld Community Health Centers) and the La Plaza Clinic, he has been the faculty advisor for the Magis Clinic since its founding in 2004.

Phalen, now 72, has created a legacy grounded in the very core of the Jesuit mission. With each successive wave of graduates, his mark is made in producing doctors whose skills and compassion are often first tested at the Magis Clinic. In honor of his work, Phalen has twice been recognized with Golden Apple Awards, the student-voted initiative that allows medical students to fete those faculty members who best exemplify the highest ideals of the teacher/mentor/role model relationship. Phalen is proud of the awards and the Magis legacy, but there is always, he said, “more.”

“Success begets success,” he said, “but it still sometimes feels like we’re that boy with his finger in the dike. A Catholic movement called The Christophers once adopted as a motto an old Chinese proverb that I’ll leave you with,” Phalen said in patting his now bursting pockets.

“It is better to light one candle,” he said, “than to curse the darkness.”


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