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Does Your Job Matter?

Image via Mesut Dogan/

What can you get for $5.00 these days? In Washington D.C., that will get you a latte at Starbucks.  In Rushville, Illinois, that will get you a check-up from 87-year old Dr. Russell Dohner. His office is in the same building where he started practicing medicine 57 years ago when the going rate for a visit to the doctor was $2.00. Dr. Dohner eventually raised his rate to $5.00 for a visit. That was 30 years ago. He says that’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it will be. He says he never intended to make money being a doctor.


My husband called me downstairs one evening this summer to catch this feel good story and I stood watching – totally moved. Dr. Dohner embodies what it means to love and be committed to one’s calling. Recognizing not all of us can afford to earn a meager $5.00 fee for the work we do, we should pause and take note of what motivates us to do what we do, beyond earning an income.

Antiquated Business and Making a Difference

The short news segment exposed undeniably antiquated office equipment and processes—a well-worn black rotary phone, stacks of mail, and a filing system comprised of handwritten index cards with patient names. Seem out of date? Yep. Are there at least 100 consulting firms in DC alone ready to help Dr. Dohner re-engineer his processes and bring him into the 21st century? Absolutely. No doubt an occasional bill or message gets lost in that pile of paperwork.  But what isn’t lost is Dr. Dohner’s…

…Unfailing commitment to his profession.

Care for his patients – beyond whether the name on the patient’s insurance card dictates whether he can treat them.

…Sharp mind and expertise, refined over 57 years of practice.

Lynn Stambaugh runs the office. Dr. Dohner also brought her into this world so she’s known him a long time. She says the reason he keeps going is because “every day he makes a difference to at least one person, and if you can do that, you can go on.” 

The Questions We Should Ask

As soon as the segment was over I wondered: what causes those of us who work in the public sector to do the things we do? Are we making a difference for another? Is every job truly of service, and value, to the American people? If we stopped doing what we do, who would miss us?

The question is: Are we doing the right things or just doing the jobs we’ve inherited? Are some of our jobs—and their associated tasks—well past their time to be retired?  

In this austere time, we don’t have the luxury of not asking these questions. It’s time to start asking ourselves if what we are doing makes a difference to at least one person. If the answer is no, perhaps it’s time to stop.

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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