When he left Jacksonville to attend college Dr. Gary Bowers did not want to be a physician. He wanted to be a scientist.
That changed when he visited an immunoparasitology lab located next door to his class lab. There he found what he was looking for through the study of animal parasites and their hosts.
“I became totally intrigued by this tiny little cell that can grow and become this monster and kill you and asked why isn’t the immune system killing it. So I decided at that time to study cancer biology from an immunology prospective.” He also decided he could best help people and his research by becoming a physician.
Dr. Bowers finished medical school at the University of Miami and went on to surgical training in Boston followed by more research studies in Maryland.
Following a ten year stint in the US Air Force, Dr. Bowers came home to Jacksonville to raise a family and start a surgical oncology medical practice initially for the University of Florida and later with North Florida Surgeons at Baptist Medical Center.
After his first meeting at the Duval County Medical Society he was asked to join a committee called We Care, founded by Dr. George Trotter, designed to assist those who are not eligible for charity, but too poor to access health care find the care they need.
It was the start of a decades long journey to assist the poor and help save lives.
According to Dr. Bowers, We Care was designed to care for the working poor. “We Care patients don’t have insurance. They do have a little bit of money but not enough to take care of themselves in the case of an illness.”
He remembers that before We Care, “Many local clinics had been providing primary care.”
But when the patient’s needs were more complex the clinics could not deal with the their need for specialized care. “That is where We Care stepped in,” he said. “The hospitals agreed to support it and the medical community agreed to support it and for the first time we had a means to take care of those people.”
“I remember a lady with ovarian cancer was being bounced through the system,” Dr. Bowers said. “I approved for her to go see a gynecology oncologist and they took care of her. Many of these women who have cancer would have fallen through the cracks.”
Dr. Bowers served as both Medical Director and a member of the Board of Directors until 2005 when he stepped down. He continued to treat We Care patients.
During his tenure he has seen We Care grow and provide access to more people and he hopes the organization can continue to expand.
“I would like to see more philanthropic organizations help support the We Care mission,” he said.
Recently, Dr. Bowers continued his We Care support through his association with the Florida Society of Clinical Oncology Foundation (FLASCO). As part of the Board of Directors Dr. Bowers and fellow Jacksonville physician, Dr. Alan Marks, established a fund to help cancer patients with other essential needs aside from their medical care.
“Alan and I and our Executive Director said to ourselves, “Let’s raise money. But instead of paying for treatment and doctors bills, because there are other resources for that, who pays for day care, getting patients back and forth to the office visits or when people can’t pay their rent or electric bill?”” That question, he said, led to the Foundation raising money for those kinds of needs.
To assist with the implementation of the project Dr. Bowers asked We Care Executive Director, Dr. Sue Nussbaum if the Foundation could provide grant money to We Care and use their system and eligibility process to help determine who has needs in our community. Dr. Nussbaum agreed and the organization applied for funding and received $3,000 in the pilot year. Now the grant helps support We Care’s patients with another valuable assistance program.
Dr. Bowers has helped We Care patients through so many different contributions,” said Dr. Nussbaum. “As Medical Director he ensured quality of medical care, as a volunteer surgeon he provided quality oncology surgery, and with FLASCO, he continues to help patients with cancer get help for other challenging expenses in their lives. He is a remarkable community servant and patient advocate.”
Even though he is retired, Dr. Bowers continues to find new ways to help his community.
“We Care provides a huge service in the community and I have been very happy to be a part of it,” he said.