Jim Samuelson had a pretty traditional path on the road to becoming a doctor. There was a good, solid education at East Grand Rapids High School, then the University of Michigan for undergrad studies, Wayne State for medical school and finally a residency at Butterworth Hospital.
But somewhere along the way, his predictable path took a little turn, and early in his career, in addition to his regular duties as a board-certified internal medicine physician, he added a half day a month as a volunteer physician at Exalta Health.
“It was Sam Giovannucci who invited me to check it out,” Samuelson recalls of what was then called Health Intervention Services. “We were in residency together, and he was excited about this relatively new organization that was operating from a faith-based perspective and providing care for free. So I came down for a half day on the third Tuesday of October 1998, and I’ve been here ever since.”
In the 21 years since his first visit, Jim figures he has missed maybe three third-Tuesdays at Exalta, and those were, he says with a smile, “for vacations.” He’s also spent two stints on the Exalta board for a total of almost 13 years of board service. A conversation with Samuelson makes it clear he has no designs on leaving Exalta anytime soon.
“If you read 1 Corinthians 13,” he says, “it talks about faith, hope and love. To me Exalta is the collision of all of that. The love that is exuded in the clinic is unbelievable. It’s palpable. Everybody is there to serve, no matter their background. It’s a special, special place.”
Exalta president Bill Paxton agrees that Exalta is special but insists that it is the many volunteers like Samuelson who make it so, some 130 medical and dental volunteers a year alone.
“Jim serves from the heart,” Paxton says. “He’s the ideal supporter, volunteer and Board member. He has a wide range of interests and skills and serves us and, most importantly, our patients in so many effective ways.”
Serving patients, and developing deep relationships with patients, is what Samuelson most appreciates about his Exalta experience. The father of three notes that in his private practice he often greets patients by asking: “What’s new and exciting?”
He says that the answers of older patients often are about relationships.
“What’s really important in life,” he says, “are relationships. It’s what I see at Exalta too. We get to know our patients. We have social workers and a chaplain. We care for the whole person. The best medicine is hope. And that’s given in many different ways at Exalta because of who we are as a faith-based organization.”