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Living for More Than Just Ourselves: An Interview with Bo Stapler | Homeschool Helpers

November 7–11, 2016   |   Vol. 128, Week 13

Bo Stapler’s brother Jack only lived for 20 months, but he inspired Bo to spend his life helping others. Now Bo, a homeschool grad and physician, is honoring his brother’s legacy by giving his patients the treatment they need and the love they deserve. Hear Bo’s story on Homeschool Heartbeat.

“I think it’s important for homeschooling parents to set an example of serving their neighbors and to involve their children in that.”—Bo Stapler

(This interview is part of our Homeschool Helpers series, which highlights homeschool grads and parents across the nation serving their communities as public servants. To read more stories, click here.)

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Bo Stapler’s brother Jack only lived for 20 months, but he inspired Bo to spend his life helping others. Now Bo, a homeschool grad and a physician, is honoring his brother’s legacy by giving his patients the treatment they need and the love they deserve. Hear Bo’s story on today’s Homeschool Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Bo Stapler. He’s a homeschooling graduate and a doctor. Bo, welcome to the program!

Bo Stapler: Thanks so much Mike, and thanks to you and those who support the radio program for being advocates for homeschooling. I’m glad to be with you.

A legacy of service [0:34]

Mike: Well thank you, Bo. Tell us about your brother and how he inspired you getting into the medical field? 

Bo: Well, my brother Jack was born when I was 8 years old. He had a genetic disorder that left him with cerebral palsy and a handful of other medical issues. He only lived to be 20 months old, which was actually longer than a lot of people expected.

But Jack taught me and my family so many things and really changed—I think mostly for the good—who I was as a person. Because his life really turned out to be a precious gift, and knowing what I know now, I certainly wouldn’t trade it for anything. I learned that I don’t have to be afraid of illness and can actually embrace it as part of something that God allows to happen in this world. Even though the reasons aren’t always very apparent, I think God uses sickness as one way to teach us how to care for one another and live for something other than ourselves.

So getting back to your question: as homeschoolers, when Jack had a doctor’s appointment, my sister and I came along too. With each visit, the more I wanted to learn about how our incredibly complex bodies work. And I hoped one day that I can use that knowledge, like the providers who cared for Jack, to help others. 

Mike: You know, that’s an incredible story, Bo. I’m just wondering, how did that impact your sister? Is she in the medical field as well?

Bo: Well no, she’s actually an attorney. She lives in Los Angeles and practices as an attorney there.

Mike: Well, we won’t hold that against her. Thank you so much for that incredible story.

Learning independence [1:47]

Mike: Bo, tell us about your homeschooling experience, and what are some of your fondest memories of homeschooling? 

Bo: I was homeschooled starting in the third grade. My family moved to a new town and I started public school for the first six weeks of the year. I found myself bored at times, though, and wasn’t really performing to my potential.

So Mom and Dad said they were going to start homeschool[ing me]. I had no idea what to expect, but homeschooling turned out to be a joy for me from the very beginning. I thrived in an environment where I could learn at my own pace. My two younger sisters were homeschooled as well.

And when I think back to my fondest memories as a young homeschooler, the first thing that comes to mind is playing with other homeschoolers each Wednesday afternoon at a local park. Now the caveat to this was [that] in order to go we had to complete our school assignments for the day—so it ended up being a nice reward for us.

Mike: How did homeschooling give you the tools, or maybe the opportunities you needed to pursue a medical career?

Bo: My mom was kind enough to arrange classes in the science field from actual experts that taught to a homeschooled group. And I think that really help boost my understanding of just how the body works and how science works.

And as a homeschooler, I was often given the opportunity to manage time and learn independently. It helped me maintain a self-directed work ethic that I think, at least for me, might have been lost in a large classroom setting where it’s easy to just follow the herd. In my particular job, I have very little direct supervision, and in order to provide timely and compassionate care for my patients, the way I go about my day requires thoughtful planning and a pretty hard-working attitude. So I would say being homeschooled really helped foster that approach.

We can’t cure everything [3:15]

Mike: Bo, what are the biggest challenges you face as a physician, and how do you overcome them?

Bo: Mike, I think for better or for worse healthcare today is being viewed more as a right than a privilege. And as a result, healthcare providers are viewed, appropriately, less like the heroes of the Dr. Kildare era, and more as regular people who make mistakes and even share some character flaws—sort of like Dr. House, if you’re familiar with that TV series. So when the patient feels, for right or for wrong, that he or she deserves a different type of care than what I’m able to [provide], capable of providing, or even willing to provide, then my job becomes quite a challenge. Situations like treating an abused child, managing pain in a patient addicted to narcotic pain medication, or providing end-of-life care—these are just a few examples of situations where we physicians find ourselves not riding in on a white horse to save the day, but rather coming face-to-face with our own limitations. The truth is, that we don’t have a cure for everything.

The good news, though is that there is someone who is way better at healing than I’ll ever be, and that’s the great physician Jesus Christ—who I believe is the author of all healing and really the only avenue by which any of us can ultimately be healed. And what’s really cool is that I have the opportunity, especially when medicine reaches its limits, to refer, as it were, patients to that great physician.

Mike: So you’re actually able to exercise your faith with your patients. Is that right?

Bo: Yeah, I’d say so. I actually work at a hospital that supports that. It’s a Catholic hospital, and that’s part of their mission statement: to reveal God’s love through healthcare. 

Mike: Well, that’s outstanding, and thanks for sharing that with us.

Selflessness amid suffering [4:43]

Mike: Bo, what’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Bo: I’d say [it’s] really anytime I get to use my unique skill set. For instance, performing a paracentesis, which involves draining fluid collected in a patient’s abdomen, and seeing the relief on their face afterwards. Or routing a needle and catheter into the radial artery at a patient’s wrist in order to monitor blood pressure or get a critical lab sample. The times I’ve found an unexpected diagnosis, like diagnosing an elderly patient with pertussis or a whooping cough, and notify[ing] her nursing home to help prevent it from spreading. Or putting a child’s elbow back in place when it comes out of joint. Those are a few of the things that keep me excited about coming to work.

Mike: Do you have a real memorable experience you could share with us?

Bo: Sure, yeah. One that comes to mind is when I was in Peru on a medical missions trip, I saw an older woman who had a few different problems—she had a rash, abdominal pain, some chronic back pain. And she was a little anxious and had difficulty focusing on her thoughts. But after examining her, it looked like she had arthritis, gastritis, and some dry skin. We talked about how to treat these, and her tone completely changed. She started crying and praying at the same time. Usually, when something like that happens it means there’s either something I’ve missed or I’m not caring for the right way. As she went on, I understood through our interpreter that she wasn’t praying for herself. She was praying for me and the medical team there. Later on, I learned about some of the really unspeakable hardships in her life, and I was just completely blown away by the selflessness she showed that day.

“Lord, make me a better doctor” [6:06]

Mike: Bo, how has working as a physician shaped the way you see the world and the people around you?

Bo: There’s probably lots of ways to answer that question, but one of the things I’ve learned is the importance of teamwork. I couldn’t possibly take care of hospitalized patients without the help of nurses, therapists, social workers, radiologists, and other specialists. But I’ve learned to ask others for help, and that includes asking God for help, too. That’s why each day, I go to work I pray and ask God to help protect me from mistakes, to help me care for my patients well, and to make me a better doctor. I’m really pretty worthless on my own.

Mike: So, let me ask you this. You’re in what I would consider public service, certainly. How can homeschoolers reach out to serve their community?

Bo: I would encourage any homeschooler to look for hands-on opportunities like job shadowing and volunteering that, because of the flexibility that many homeschoolers have in their day-to-day routine, may not be unavailable to students in a traditional environment.

I think it’s also important for homeschooling parents to set an example of serving their neighbors and to involve their children in that. Being a person of the Christian faith, I think the best resource for learning about public service is actually the Bible. The Bible has many examples of men and women who lived faithful lives as servants, and really none more striking than that of Jesus. So I’d definitely look there.

Mike: What about young people that might be listening to us that are thinking about being a doctor. Are there things that they might do—by volunteering at the hospital, for instance?

Bo: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, that’s something I wish I’d done at a younger age, because it really allows you not only to see how the system works, but also maybe establish you with a mentor in that sort of situation.

Mike: Well Bo, it’s been a pleasure having you on the program this week. Thank you for sharing with us; we wish you the best in the future. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Bo StaplerPhoto of Bo

Bo Stapler is a hospitalist physician who works at a community hospital in Billings, Montana. He is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and was homeschooled from the third grade until he started college.

Bo holds a bachelor’s degree in science (chemistry) at the Georgia Institute of Technology and received his medical degree at the Medical College of Georgia. He completed residency training in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and is board-certified in both specialties.

Bo has had the incredible fortune of being married to his lovely wife for nine years and has been blessed with two wonderful and entertaining children, ages 2 and 4. His hobbies are spending time with family and friends, worshiping and serving at his church, medical missions, and enjoying music and the outdoors.

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