Long-time Volunteer Assumes Mentoring Role for New Docents

By: Shannon Sarino, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Dr. Solomon Barr remembers when the National Museum of Health and Medicine was called the Army Medical Museum, and was located in downtown Washington, D.C.

"I have been associated with the museum since 1952," he said. "I had a summer job at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) as a clerk/typist, assembling data for pathologists. I took my children to the museum when it was downtown, and then I took them to the museum when it was at Walter Reed."

Dr. Barr, a retired allergist who served in both the National Guard and the Army, has been an NMHM volunteer docent for 10 years.

"I saw my last patient in August [2004], and a month later I began volunteering," he said.

Volunteer docents provide education and interpretive support for NMHM's programming. Docents support tours, outreach and family programs. Through NMHM's educational programs, the museum inspires and promotes interest in the understanding of medicine—past, present and future—with a special emphasis on American military medicine. With a vast collection of more than 25 million objects and a diversity of visitors, volunteers at NMHM are provided with a unique and rewarding experience.

"As a veteran member of the volunteer program, Dr. Barr has been a fantastic mentor for new volunteers," said Gwen Nelmes, NMHM tours coordinator. "He also creatively incorporates personal experiences and his medical knowledge in his tours to inspire an interest in both civilian and military medicine."

Dr. Barr, who also spent 30 years volunteering at the allergy clinic at the George Washington University School of Medicine, said he enjoys giving tours at the museum.

"I like teaching, and the interaction with the kids," he said. "The younger kids especially are a lot of fun…I really like to use the plastinated organs when they come; it's a way of bringing kids out of their shells and teaching them about anatomy at the same time."

He added that his favorite artifact in the NMHM collection is something he remembers using as a child and young adult.

"I really like the shoe fluoroscope, which we had at the shoe parlors," he said. "You would put your foot in the machine and the salesman could see X-rays of the feet in order to fit the shoes better. We didn't know any better at the time, but it was really an irradiation hazard to the salesman."