Money is no substitute for meaningful work

I read his inspirational obituary in The New York Times last week. His name was Salvator Altchek. He was a man of principle. A man who worked to help people, not to make money.
Everyone in Brooklyn, N.Y. knew and loved Dr. Salvator Altchek.
One time he was robbed at gunpoint. But when the robber recognized Dr. Altchek, he apologized and gave the doctor $10 from his own purse.
It makes me think of a philosopher from the first century B.C., who said, “A good reputation is more valuable than money.”
Dr. Altchek was born in Greece in 1910 and immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four. His father, who spoke seven languages, valued education. Consequently, three of his sons became doctors.
At 25, Dr. Altchek began his practice in Brooklyn. He stayed in the same neighborhood throughout his whole career as the neighborhood changed around him—from upper class homes to wartime boarding houses to an artistic district to a community of young professionals.
But the doctor was always there, serving the community from a basement office in his row house.
He took care of prominent lawyers and streetwalkers. Members of the mafia and starving artists. Homeless men and “yuppies.” And his rate was the same for everyone—from $5 to $10, if you could afford it.
Some of his patients couldn’t pay anything. One time he gave his own winter coat to a patient without money. But many paid much more than he charged.
He was fondly nicknamed “the $5 doctor” because of his low rates.
Author Ramon Colon described Dr. Altchek in this way: “He is a physician who treated the poor and never asked for money from the oppressed community. They paid when they had it, and he treated them as though they were Park Avenue residents.”
Dr. Altchek died last week at age 92. He gave up making house calls at age 87, when it became too difficult to climb steps. But he practised medicine until July.
Then he spent his last two months calling other doctors, asking them to take his patients who had no insurance. His last words were that he had to give a medical report to a patient.
Dr. Altchek never had money, but he was a very wealthy man.
He lived by age-old principles. In fifth-century Saint Jerome’s words, “Preferring to store his money in the stomachs of the needy rather than hide it in a purse.”
He worked to help people, not to make money. And he didn’t need a retirement fund because he never retired.
Dr. Altchek is a wonderful role model for people on both sides of 60.
Retired or still working, think about it. Do you really want to work for money or to help people? Think of your own life. What could you do to make a difference? Where could you volunteer? Where do you find meaning in life?
Our generation has been granted the gift of long life. It’s up to us to use it. And always remember that money is no substitute for meaningful work.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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