Posts Tagged physician giving back

Capturing Memories with Joseph Wu, M.D.

Capturing Memories with Joseph Wu, M.D.

BIRMINGHAM – Famed American photographer Ansel Adams once said, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” Birmingham physician Joseph Wu has found some truly breathtaking places to stand after he discovered his love of photography in medical school.

What began as a hobby in medical school, just playing around with a camera as the unofficial class photographer, as Dr. Wu joked, soon turned into a sense of true adventure when he realized the places his camera could take him…and what memories his photographs would conjure later.

“With each trip I take, I update my website and Facebook page to keep people coming back to see where I’ve been. It’s not to sell my photos. That certainly would not make enough money for me to quit my day job!” Dr. Wu laughed. “It really feels as if I’m bringing memories of these adventures back for others to enjoy as well.”

Dr. Wu is quick to admit that he wasn’t all that interested in learning the mechanics of photography when he first began taking photos. The technical aspects of shutter speed, exposure and aperture were not that interesting to him. After he and his wife married and began traveling to some unexpected places, he realized the stunning landscapes they were seeing together would translate to gorgeous photographs, and it was time he learned how to operate the bells and whistles on his camera.

“We don’t go to your typical, run-of-the-mill vacation places most people do. For our honeymoon, we went to Portugal and since then we’ve been to Patagonia and Norway. We see pictures of places and we think, ‘Oh we HAVE to go there! This is absolutely amazing!’ We’ve been to places that 10 years ago people never traveled to and now have become real tourist destinations. We love to go to the outlying areas people don’t normally go to, so that’s where I like to take my pictures,” Dr. Wu explained.

He honed his photography skills in one of the most unlikely places on the planet. Iceland may not sound like a living postcard, but you’d be surprised. With dramatic landscapes of volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields, Iceland’s massive glaciers served as the backdrop for Dr. Wu’s first photography workshop.

“I started thinking that if I was going to spend this much time taking pictures, I wanted them to be presentable. This may be a hobby I’d like to improve, even though this can be a very expensive hobby!” he laughed. “After you get into it, with all the cameras and other equipment, it gets pretty expensive because there’s always new and better gear.”

Iceland proved to be an artistic awakening, and he was definitely bitten by the photo bug.

“My first trip to Iceland was way before everyone was deciding to go to Iceland, and now it’s become a vacation destination. I chose a workshop group in Iceland because their photos looked amazing, and their leaders were all pros, but everyone was very approachable. They gave everyone a lot of time and good feedback. Of course, they criticize you, but you’re there to learn. They really want you to get better as a photographer and your work to get better. Once you get there it’s the perfect learning environment. You’re in this beautiful place, and you want to bring this beauty home with you…somehow. It’s not to wow people looking at your social media pages but just to say ‘Hey, this is what I’m seeing, and I want to share it with you.’ Every photograph is a beautiful memory, and I want to share that moment,” he said.

Since then, Dr. Wu and his family have taken many family vacations to some unusual destinations from Canyonlands National Park in Utah and The Palouse in Washington State to more exotic places such as Patagonia, New Zealand, China and the Yukon Territory. Still, he has a bucket list of destinations such as Namibia, Myanmar, Japan and Tasmania. Later this year he has an excursion planned for Antarctica.

To the delight of his patients, the exam rooms in his office at the Simon-Williamson Clinic are filled with some of his favorite photographs from his travels, and they are more and conversation pieces.

“The patients love them! My patients know I love to travel, and they strike up a conversation about where I took the photos and how. So, it gives us something to talk about to break the ice other than why they’re here. It helps build that relationship with my patients. There are some pictures that really resonate with my patients. I have one picture in one of the exam rooms that’s of some old farm equipment. My patients love that picture. They love it! I thought it was cool, but it’s farm equipment!” he laughed. “I have another that’s an old locomotive wheel I took when I was in Minnesota. I took it because I liked the wheel and the stuff coming out of it. I turned it into a black and white picture, and the patients LOVE it! I enjoy sharing these memories with my patients, and they put them at ease when they’re here.”

If you’d like to see more of Dr. Wu’s photos, check out his gallery online at, but he’s given us permission to display a few of his favorites below.

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The Accidental General with Gen. Shane Lee, M.D.

The Accidental General with Gen. Shane Lee, M.D.

MARION – The city of Marion is an old town rich in Alabama history that pre-dates the Civil War. It’s home to many antebellum homes, Judson College and Marion Military Institute, the nation’s oldest military junior college. Few people may know that a young Coretta Scott, born and raised in Marion, wed her husband, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the front lawn of her mother’s home just north of Marion in 1953. It’s this small town’s amazing history that called out to Dr. Shane Lee when he was looking to set up a practice.

Dr. Lee had finished medical school at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and did his residency in Selma where he met Dr. Donald Overstreet. The two hit it off, and as with many of his residents, Dr. Overstreet quickly became a mentor and close friend of Dr. Lee’s. Sadly, Dr. Overstreet passed away in June.

“Dr. Overstreet cold-called me from Selma,” Dr. Lee explained. “He was sort of half Marcus Welby and half Donald Trump – he was a wheeler-dealer, and he got stuff done. At the time, his was the only family practice residency program financially stable in the state. He taught us the managerial aspects of running a medical practice as a business. And, it is a business that can work you very quickly into bankruptcy. I was attracted to Selma because of my love of history, and at the time Selma was going through a little bit of a renaissance. I hadn’t been there before, so it was something different for me.”

His love of history may have brought him to the Selma area, but the quality of the residency program kept him there…and the fact that Dr. Overstreet allowed the residents the opportunity to hunt in their own club didn’t hurt.

“It really was an excellent residency program. They grabbed you by the collar, threw you into the trenches, and said, ‘Go!’ All the doctors you worked with, from family medicine to internal medicine, to surgeons and orthopaedists, were all so desperately overloaded that they were thrilled to have the help. It was a very procedure-oriented program, which is critical. I think that’s something we need to do better now. We aren’t as procedure-oriented now as we used to be. So, if you get out into the rural areas, you need to be more of a one-stop shop as much as possible to maintain the best standard of care.”

Dr. Lee does what he can to provide the best possible standard of care to the residents of Marion and the surrounding area, even if that means making house calls. In Dr. Lee’s case, sometimes a house call is just another day on the job. The thing is, Dr. Lee has a second job. He’s also a two-star general in the U.S. Army.

When you walk into his office in The Marion Clinic, the walls are covered with photos and memorabilia of his travels. From the jungle of Nicaragua to the desert of the Middle East, Dr. Lee has traversed the globe on medical mission trips and deployments, each trip leaving a lasting impression on him. Just inside the door is a well-worn, green denim pouch just a bit larger than a baseball cap. The hash marks drawn in black marker are nearly all faded now, but the memories of what they stand for are still fresh for Dr. Lee. The pouch was part of his uniform during Operation Desert Storm. It contained his gas mask. The hash marks were those he made every time the camp warning siren blasted of a possible attack by scud missile or gas.

“I’m a blue-collar kid from Hueytown. I would never have thought I would have done the things that I have. If it hadn’t been for the military, I wouldn’t have been able to. If you don’t draw a line, the practice can be all consuming, so it gives me a legitimate reason to blow town. People don’t argue with me if I have to leave and I’m on orders,” he laughed. “I’m an accidental general. It wasn’t my goal. I just hung in there. There are certain career checkpoints you have to make, and it was a labor of love for me, really. There are some very qualified guys, much more qualified than me, that didn’t make flag rank just because when it came up, there weren’t any vacancies. Anyone who’s made general, if they don’t tell you that it’s a little bit of luck and time, they’re lying, because it really is.”

The deployments are a little different now. Dr. Lee and his unit are on a medical mission trip to Kauai, Hawaii. After the end of a training cycle, if the unit doesn’t deploy into an active area, they go somewhere else.

“We’ve started doing these IRTs, or innovative readiness trainings, where we will take a medical unit and send them to an underserved area. We just got back from one we did in Virginia in coal mining country. We take a medical section, vet section, optometry, pharmacy, mental health…we sort of mix it up depending on the needs and what we have,” Dr. Lee explained.

The IRTs are clinics set up in conjunction with a local host, which is part of the purpose of the mission. Connecting with the local medical community, public health services, law enforcement, church groups and other military groups helps to teach skill sets on both sides of the table. The IRTs don’t always have to be in a rural area, either. Dr. Lee’s unit has done trainings in Camden and Selma as well.

“These trainings aren’t successful unless we can get civilian involvement. What you really want to do is get people plugged into the system. What we do, the real-time good, is pull teeth, cut glasses, spay dogs, do rabies shots. The big draws are dental, optometry and veterinarian services. Those get the most attention. It really is a phenomenal change in an area and a good feeling to know the change you can leave behind,” Dr. Lee said.

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