A Hero’s Journey – Dr. Joan Barice – Advocate for “Love Never Fails”
By: Judith Mercado
Imagine being desperately ill but so poor you have to wait for hours, penned up with others like cattle, while you await medical attention. When it is finally your turn, you are treated by a harried physician whose first choice likely would not be employment in such a clinic. It is hard to hold on to hope and dignity under such circumstances. Alas, the poor and the victimized often find themselves in such a predicament.
Dr. Joan Barice found this situation intolerable, though not because she was a patient or one of those harried doctors. She simply felt strongly that treating patients with dignity and respect is conducive to health. She took seriously her motto of “Love Never Fails” and decided to transform one such clinic into one in which patients had specific appointments and also enjoyed treatment by the area’s best doctors. This achievement would be remarkable all on its own, but it is only one of many such accomplishments from one of the most amazing women I have ever met.
Service to others through healing and love has been the unifying principle of Dr. Barice’s life. As a graduate of Stanford Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, she could have chosen a life of ease. Instead, she has dedicated herself to caring for the poor, the elderly, and those afflicted by addiction and HIV.
Faced with her enthusiastic demeanor, one would not guess that she suffers from chronic, sometimes disabling, pain. Graced by her gentle spirit, one would not know that this intrepid woman has made 250 skydives and survived a plane crash in the arctic wilderness. Always motivated to keep learning, she lived in China for a year, studying qigong and acupuncture.
Just as she has tested the boundaries of her personal life, she has also been on the forefront of advancing the integration of safe and effective alternative healing therapies with those of conventional medicine. She has done this in clinical settings, in the academic and research arenas, as well as with her professional associations. For her accomplishments, she received the Certificate of Merit, the highest honor given by the Florida Medical Association for contributions to the health of the community and physicians.
The list of Dr. Barice’s achievements is indeed extensive. In this post, I highlight only a few. At the clinic mentioned above, Dr. Barice was instrumental not only in recruiting the highest quality doctors but also in offering education for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes management et al.
Another instance where she made a difference in people’s lives, this time across the economic spectrum, was through her role in getting addiction recognized as a disease to be treated in parity with other illnesses. Her successful activism at the state level eventually led to a similar shift at the national level. This has meant, among other things, that people seeking treatment for addiction could be covered by health insurance.
Dr. Barice’s own experience with disabling pain and the helplessness it engendered brought home for her the connection between the mind and the body. In Dr. Barice’s words, “A lot of things we don’t know about, but the importance of the mind/body connection is profound. Thinking can make you sick, and thinking can make you well.”
Her personal involvement with chronic pain has led her to test the limits and the possibilities both of mainstream medicine and of the so-called alternative healing therapies. She believes in accessing the best of both approaches to health care. For treatment of her pain, for example, she has undergone surgery but has also used alternative therapies such as acupuncture, essential oils, and nutritional supplements. Today, she lectures to medical students about the integration of mainstream and alternative therapies.
A discussion of Dr. Barice would be incomplete without also touching on another factor she considers significant for health—the spiritual component. Her strong faith is critical in helping her navigate the challenge of chronic pain. In her treatment of others, Dr. Barice, a devout Catholic, takes very seriously Jesus’ assertion, “What you do for the least among you, you do for me.” Nor would the discussion be complete without her insistence on giving credit to the many who helped and mentored her along the way.
I celebrate Dr. Joan Barice for her unflagging dedication to improving the wellbeing of so many in need. I honor her commitment to integrating the best of conventional and alternative therapies. I am pleased that someone of her caliber champions recognition of the role that mind and spirit play in health. For all this, as well as for her unstinting bravery and strength of character, she meets the definition of a hero. For her willingness to journey down paths less traveled in her search for greater truths, she is deserving of mention in a blog which celebrates pilgrim souls.