Amy Gouley, PA-C, a dermatology physician assistant (PA) who works in a dermatology practice in Beverly Hills, Calif., sees needs locally and around the world and acts on what she sees.
Gouley founded the Los Angeles-based non-profit Project Happy Face and volunteers as a dermatology PA with organizations that care for people in the U.S. and around the world who need care for skin conditions.
Humanitarianism is natural for Gouley, whose parents taught Gouley to give, selflessly. In 8th grade, she was among the founders of “Students of the Earth,” a group of like-minded kids who wanted to clean up the small Idaho town where Gouley grew up.
“There was a surplus of glass at the recycling center, and they didn’t know what to do with it. So, we went to Boise, to the capital, and spoke about putting the surplus glass back into the pavement for highways,” she says. “We picked up trash on the side of the road and planted trees around parks and schools.”
MAKING AN IMPACT ONE FACE AT A TIME
Gouley’s career as a dermatology PA has opened a new world of opportunity to give back.
“It just so happened that I really had a niche in teenage acne,” Gouley says.
The PA says she connects on a physical and emotional level with teen acne patients when they come to the practice.
“I think they really enjoyed seeing me as a person but also as a provider. We were developing good relationships. I felt that was the greatest avenue forward to keep connected to these young kids and teach the importance of being kind and spreading goodness throughout society,” Gouley says. “So, I sort of used their acne as an excuse to get them in the office and then coached them every visit about attending to college and receiving a good education.”
But the kids in the practice had insurance. Gouley knew there were plenty of teenagers suffering with acne who did not have the means to treat it.
That’s where Project Happy Face comes in.
Gouley started the nonprofit to offer free treatment to disadvantaged teenagers who have acne. The kids have to meet certain requirements, including having a GPA of 3.0 or higher, a letter of recommendation from a teacher, some involvement in the community and plans to go to college.
The students are required to sign a contract to smile at strangers.
“A lot of our students have been in foster homes or their parents are divorced or they’ve been sexually abused at home,” Gouley says. “They don’t have insurance. They have the biggest hearts and incredible brains but their face is holding them back from basically conquering the world. It’s great because I can get them in the office, clear up their acne and encourage them to do all the right steps to go to college.”
Gouley works with school counselors to find children that need her help. Sometimes, kids in the program recommend others. Gouley provides the care, the office space and all needed acne treatments for free.
“Even if they need Accutane, their labs and medication will be paid for by Project Happy Face because we are a 501 C3,” she says.
Part of the money for the project comes from skincare product sales and Project Happy Face's online store. Gouley also organizes an annual silent auction fundraiser and has private donors who help support Project Happy Face.
“We take professional pictures before treatment and when they’re done. They always graduate from high school and go to college with perfect skin,” Gouley says.
Before they leave for college, Gouley takes Project Happy Face graduates on a celebratory field trip and buys each a t-shirt with the name of their destination college.
Gouley’s grassroots concept is catching on. She’s helping a dermatologist with PAs in practice in Seattle, Wash., to open a Project Happy Face chapter. She says dermatology PAs and dermatologists interested in launching Project Happy Face chapters in their offices should contact Gouley at [email protected].
DERMATOLOGY AND HUMANITARIANISM
Dermatology is a much-needed specialty at many humanitarian and volunteering organizations.
“There is a huge need in dermatology, especially in third-world countries. I went to Haiti and saw dermatology patients for 10 days and we had 70, 80 dermatology patients each day,” Gouley says. “We saw lots of fungus, horrible rashes, eczema, some acne, bacterial infections…. We brought all our own pharmaceuticals and set up a makeshift pharmacy. Even locally in the U.S., there’s a big need for volunteering in dermatology.”
Gouley volunteers offering dermatology services with Care Harbor, which holds a three-day health clinic event in LA and Detroit for people who are underserved or underinsured.
She says the international humanitarian organization A Passion to Heal organizes volunteer trips around the world and are always looking for dermatology providers.
Providers don't need to travel the world to volunteer or start a charitable organization to make a difference. They can start simply in the comfort of their own clinics, Gouley says.
She says the American Academy of Dermatology’s (AAD’s) Melanoma SPOTme Skin Cancer Screening Program is a wonderful way for providers to immerse themselves in the community, and it’s fun involving the entire office.
Gouley recommends doing the screenings a few times in the clinic, then, perhaps, taking the program to a local fire station or rural area.
“I volunteer because that’s what makes my heart full,” Gouley says. “Indirectly of course it’s making me a better PA. I’m seeing different dermatological pathologies. I’m thrown into different situations. And I’m constantly trouble shooting and problem solving in a unfamiliar environment. Anytime you are practicing medicine outside of your normal routine, with limited supplies, it builds and strengthens critical thinking skills."