For work with uninsured, 2 doctors are honored

Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County recognizes physicians' accomplishments


Some may gravitate toward the lucrative side of medicine, but not Dr. Daniel Aukerman or Dr. Sharon Y. Alongi. These two Carroll County physicians each, in their own ways, live out a common mission: treating indigent people who would otherwise lack access to medical care.

For their work with uninsured and mentally ill patients, Aukerman and Alongi were recently honored by the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County.

Aukerman learned at an early age to help make the world a better place.

His parents, the late Dale H. Aukerman, who was a Church of the Brethren minister, and Ruth Aukerman, an elementary school art teacher, were peace activists who demonstrated against wars, apartheid, the death penalty and nuclear arms.

Aukerman, 39, didn't enter medicine for the money. He has cared for the destitute, both in the United States and abroad. For those efforts, he recently received both the local award and one from the state. "It feels very nice to be honored," Aukerman said. "It's also always a reminder of how much there is to do, how much need there is to address."

Since receiving those awards, he hasn't stopped moving. He attended a United Nations conference in New York on AIDS. The week before that, he traveled to Africa to help improve faith-based medical assistance. In Malawi, he worked on countering the "brain drain" - when local doctors leave for better-paying work abroad. In Kenya, he visited a rural hospital that has started a credit union to help retain health care staff.

"There's so much need overseas," Aukerman said. Throughout his career, from medical school in New Mexico to work in Latin America and Africa, to his experience at clinics in Lancaster, Pa., and in Westminster, Aukerman has devoted himself to marginalized patients - immigrants, the uninsured, the rural poor.

The Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs recently honored him for his work with Spanish-speaking immigrants at the Access Carroll clinic in Westminster. At the awards banquet, he wore a bolo tie fastened with a turquoise and silver clasp - a memento from working in New Mexico, where he honed his Spanish.

With the county's growing Hispanic population, Aukerman has been in demand since the Access Carroll clinic opened in February 2005. He volunteers there Thursday afternoons. Using Spanish, he communicates with patients from Mexico, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

"As English speakers, we wouldn't want to go to someone who speaks only Spanish," Aukerman said.

He volunteers on top of a full-time job at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor. For the last two years there, he has worked as vice president for international program development for Interchurch Medical Assistance Inc. It's a perfect fit for the family physician, who also holds a public health degree in international development.

His sense of mission has led him around the globe, from Latin America to Africa. At a rural hospital in Kenya, he worked as the sole doctor.

"I did things I wouldn't otherwise in the states," Aukerman said. "C-sections, twin births. You're always in demand. One doctor does everything there."

For Alongi, her initiation into caring for the neglected began as a medical student in New York City, where she served a rotation in a chronic psychiatric ward.

"I said, `I'm going to take the most physically repulsive person I can find,'" Alongi said. "She may have not gained one thing from me, but I gained so much from her. I figured if I could take care of her, I could take care of anybody."

More than 20 years later, Alongi has received the Dr. Janet Neslen Award for the sense of charity she has shown to the mentally and physically disabled. Since 1994, she has volunteered with the mobile Mission of Mercy medical clinic in Westminster. She also opens her local family practice to poor patients who lack insurance. Alongi even makes house calls, when necessary.

"She has one of the greatest hearts in all the world and would never refuse anybody," said Dr. Elizabeth M. Ruff, Carroll County's deputy health officer.

Prior to attending medical school in Grenada, Alongi worked as a nurse at a University of Maryland hospital and as a nurse practitioner in the emergency room at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

As a medical resident, she was introduced to Carroll County in the late 1980s by Ruff - her neighbor in Baltimore at the time.

"She was examining a child, and I was looking out the window the whole time, thinking this is where I belong," Alongi said of her first day in the county.

But Mother Theresa almost stole Alongi away. After finishing her residency in Ocean City, she was one of a handful of Americans that Mother Theresa invited to work in Calcutta.

Instead, Alongi made the difficult decision to start practicing medicine in Westminster. She still has the rosary Mother Theresa blessed for her.

"To me, it's not a career," Alongi said. "It's a vocation."

Her vision complements that of Mission of Mercy, where Alongi has cared for the uninsured and working poor since the clinic opened.

"They've taught me how to give medical care with love," Alongi said. "We don't need the rich and famous, but just anyone who needs care."

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