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Retired volunteers could help alleviate health care labor needs

Programs that match retirees and their skills with volunteer opportunities or projects that pay a modest stipend are on the rise.

Some of these, like the Encore Physicians program and MAVEN Project, focus on health care where demand for those with medical acumen is tangible.

While health care has added 412,000 jobs over the year, despite that growth, employment in health care is below its February 2020 level by 37,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2025, the U.S. is estimated to have a shortage of approximately 446,000 home health aides, 95,000 nursing assistants, 98,700 medical and lab technologists and technicians, and more than 29,000 nurse practitioners, according to a report conducted by Mercer.

“The problem the program addresses is the relative chronic shortage of physicians in community health centers,” Dr. Mike Rizzo, who directs the Encore Physicians Program, told Yahoo Money. “There are a lot of available retired physicians who if they knew of a way to work in a controlled, less hectic, less demanding environment would like to continue working, but it's not easy to find those things. They still have that spark and joy of caring for people. We’re the matchmaker.”

Encore Physicians, which began as a pilot program in 2018, connects retired physicians with clinical roles in community health centers in Northern California that cater to patients with little or no health insurance.

The health centers, with financial support from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit Programs, pay Encore Physicians between $70 to 120 per hour, depending on the clinic and specialty. Physicians work from 4 to 16 hours a week for a year, providing direct patient care and mentoring less-experienced clinicians. To date, 15 retired doctors have been placed in five community health centers, and there are several new matches in the works.

 Dr. James McLean and Medical Assistant Rebecca Sandova
 

The photos should be credited to S. Smith Patrick.
Encore Physician Dr. James McLean and Medical Assistant Rebecca Sandova (Photo Credit:S. Smith Patrick)

Dr. James McLean, 72, a retired emergency physician, who lives in Oakland, Ca,, is now finishing his third year as an Encore Physician with La Clinica, Pittsburg, working two days a week.

“I retired because I was burned out,'' McLean told Yahoo Money. “But I realized that I have a lot to offer. I have experience and expertise in procedures that many of the clinics don't have people with the training that I can bring specifically to an underserved community. The issue with me isn't the money. I have enough saved for retirement. The issue for me is giving back to the community that I serve.”

Dr. Dawnell Moody, chief medical officer at Axis Community Health, runs one of the centers that has tapped Encore Physicians.

“We’re always looking for ways to expand services,” Moody told Yahoo Money. “So far, the program has connected us with primary care physicians, a podiatrist, an obgyn and a cardiologist. Most of them start working right after they retire and work generally between four and eight hours a week. Typically, they'll see about eight to 10 patients in a half day.”

Sharing a love for medicine and advice

It didn’t take Dr. Debra Cohen, 70, a retired pediatric endocrinologist, long to find her path. Cohen has spent almost seven years volunteering with MAVEN Project. Cohen is one of more than 160 retired and semi-retired physicians who volunteer with MAVEN Project, a national nonprofit that supports providers in delivering care to patients at health centers and community clinics nationwide.

From her home in Los Gatos, California, Cohen responds to email questions from providers and doles out expert medical advice and recommendations treatment options. She can also connect through live video and phone consultations.

"I love medicine and working out medical problems while connecting to other healthcare providers,” Cohen told Yahoo Money.

Launched in 2014 by San Francisco obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Laurie Green, MAVEN Project offers retired physicians a way to continue to use their medical expertise to make a difference and connect community health clinics with medical specialists who would be too expensive for them to have on staff.

“Originally the MAVEN acronym stood for Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert network,” Dr. Jill Einstein, MAVEN’s senior director of physician engagement, told Yahoo Money. “The origin of the word ‘maven’ is Yiddish and means expert or one who understands.”

maven project volunteers
MAVEN Project offers retired physicians a way to continue to use their medical expertise to make a difference and connect community health clinics with medical specialists. Debbie Cohen is on the top row, far left in the white shirt and necklace. (Photo Credit: MAVEN Project)

MAVEN Project’s expert physician volunteers provide resources, peer support and medical consultations to more than 280 community clinics in 19 states and Puerto Rico. “They’ve got a strong spirit of volunteerism; they're very eager to share their knowledge, and there's no minimum time commitment when volunteering,” Einstein said. “We have been growing rapidly. Last year, we doubled the number of sites. This year we plan to partner with at least another hundred clinics, possibly more.”

Funding for MAVEN Project comes through donations and community grants. By working with primary care providers at the clinics, rather than providing direct-to-patient care, MAVEN Project volunteers aren’t restricted by state licensure requirements.

“Our volunteers provide medical consults, medical education, and mentoring directly to the primary care providers through our telehealth platform which covers 60 different specialties,” Einstein said. “It's a HIPAA compliant platform. The work that we do is peer-to-peer, or provider-to- provider. Our volunteers don't interact directly with the patients.”

For example, if a family nurse practitioner, who launched her career a year ago, and is working in a rural clinic in Washington state, has a middle-aged patient with new onset diabetes, she may have a question about a side effect the patient is experiencing. “She can go on to the telehealth platform and type in her case,” Einstein said. “And our physician volunteers will respond to her usually in less than eight hours. We also do video consulting and are piloting phone consults.”

Cohen spends roughly two hours a week volunteering for MAVEN Project. She also does projects as a volunteer for Life for a Child, which is a Sydney, Australia based nonprofit that supplies insulin and diabetes equipment in developing countries, and she volunteers for theInternational Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes.

Overall, she’s volunteering 10 to 15 hours a week. The biggest pay back to using her skills to volunteer?

“I’ve always enjoyed medicine so much, and this is a way to use my experience to connect me to the healthcare providers that are on the ground, whether they're nurses, nurse practitioners, or doctors taking care of the patients. And I'm indirectly involved in patient care and teaching. That keeps me motivated to be up-to-date.”

Kerry is a Senior Columnist and Senior Reporter at Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon

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