Recently, Senator Rand Paul took a drive to Paducah to perform pro-bono eye surgeries for patients that cannot afford them. Sight is something that we all take for granted- until it’s not there anymore. It is a basic thing that helps us interact with the world, and I for one wouldn’t know how I would react if it was removed or deteriorated to the point that it wasn’t usable for me. It would be devastating. So when Senator Paul announced he was going to do eye surgeries for FREE that was something we knew was incredible!
We got the opportunity to connect with Senator Paul and his team and get a little deeper insight into him as a person, his thoughts and more. He’s someone that is using his skills to impact people on a personal level, and he has been visible on a very local level to find out what the people want and need. Look for a follow up with more info in the future as we cultivate this relationship. In the mean time, check out our interview below. Questions are in bold, and Senator Paul’s answers follow. Enjoy!
You’re currently a Senator representing Kentucky in Washington, D.C., so why is a U.S. Senator performing pro-bono eye surgeries?
Before being elected to the Senate in 2010, I was an eye surgeon. I graduated from Duke Medical School in 1988, and then completed a general surgery internship at Georgia Baptist Medical Center in Atlanta, Ga., followed by my residency in ophthalmology at Duke University Medical Center. Upon completion of my training in 1993, my wife Kelley and I moved to Bowling Green to start our family and begin my ophthalmology practice.
When I became a Senator I was no longer allowed to have a medical practice, but using my skills as a doctor to give people back their vision is something I wanted to continue, as its been such an important part of my life. So now I do free eye surgeries for Kentuckians several times a year, as well as abroad. In the past couple of years I’ve gone on medical missions to both Haiti and Guatemala through the Children of the Americas Program. During my time in Guatemala and Haiti, over 200 patients, many of them blind with cataracts, had their vision restored.
Performing charitable eye surgeries is a continuation of over 20 years of work as an eye surgeon. In 1995 I helped found the Southern Kentucky Lions Eye Clinic to provide low cost surgery and eyeglasses to Kentuckians. I am a former president and long time member of Lions Clubs International, which is dedicated to preserving sight by providing eyeglasses and surgery to the less fortunate around the world.
Which do you prefer- the operating room or the Senate floor? And why politics?
I definitely miss being an eye surgeon, which is why doing these pro-bono surgeries is so rewarding. It also helps me keep my skills sharp! But my decision to enter the political world is indicative of my life’s work as a surgeon – I have a desire to diagnose problems and provide practical solutions. I wanted to use what I learned as a physician, particularly my unique perspective and experiences, to better address the problems our country faces.
Sometimes politics and governing can be messy, and results aren’t always achieved quickly, so it really is wonderful to see the immediate, tangible results of a successful surgery. Seeing the look on someone’s face when they wake up after surgery and can see again is pretty incredible.
How has being a doctor helped you in the Senate?
When faced with a political dilemma or policy issue, I always try to identify the root cause of the problem before proposing a serious solution. For example, the healthcare plan I proposed as an alternative to Obamacare addresses the root cause of why I think the current system is failing, and is based on my own experience in the healthcare field.
In my medical practice, I saw firsthand how competition can and does work in health care. Because LASIK surgery and contact lenses are largely free from government price controls and mandates, there is a true market. Patients can and do shop around for the most affordable option.
The price of LASIK surgery has dropped from thousands of dollars per eye to hundreds of dollars per eye, all while the technology has improved. And because my customers could easily pick up the phone and check on prices, I frequently had to match the price they got somewhere else to keep their business.
True competition in the market for health insurance will lower the price of insurance, but the current system has effectively outlawed cheap health insurance. By mandating the type of insurance people have to buy, Obamacare forces individuals and families to pay for coverage of things they don’t want or don’t need. True freedom of choice would let patients buy any type of insurance they want, including inexpensive insurance. Shouldn’t every American get to decide whether they’d rather buy expensive insurance or save that money for the future?
Why do you still do pro-bono eye surgeries, and since we’re not all eye surgeons, what can the rest of us do to also give back?
There is nothing more rewarding than using my skills as an ophthalmologist to give back to the community, and I believe I have an obligation as a surgeon to help those in need. I’m blessed to have such generous colleagues in the medical community like Dr. Bowers, Dr. Burns, and Dr. Manchikanti to also donate their time, skills, and facilities to ensure performing these pro-bono surgeries are a regular and continuing effort for Kentucky’s most needy patients.
We have some wonderful charities in Kentucky and across the country that are focused on addressing the needs of our society’s most vulnerable and underprivileged people. Whether you are a regular volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter, or you donate your time or money to an after-school program for children, I think we all need to identify opportunities where we can give back to our local communities.
Lastly, as spending programs and budgets continue to be a big issue in the news, I think we all should remember that we are an incredibly compassionate society. In 2014, we gave away $400 billion — privately, not the government, individually — to churches and to charities. It’s important to acknowledge the incredible work of the many private charities lifting up our communities and continue to support their efforts to enact positive change.