A renowned physician and researcher, Jack McConnell proved to be a terrible retiree. "I never got so bored in my life," says McConnell, whose career achievements include directing the development of the tuberculosis tine test, Tylenol tablets, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. "I sat around thinking, 'Is this all I got left?'"
It wasn't: after retiring to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to play golf, the pediatrician quickly noticed that a large number of the resort island's low-income residents had no health care. So he started a free medical clinic to serve them, luring recently retired physicians and nurses off the golf course and back to work."We offer them a way to practice medicine the way they were taught to practice," says McConnell in his honeyed East Tennessee drawl—an unhurried, personal approach that dates to an era before managed care.
The success of the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, which opened in 1994 and last year tallied nearly 30,000 patient visits, speaks both to Hilton Head's doctor-heavy demographics and to the persuasive powers of its founder. (McConnell persuaded South Carolina lawmakers to waive licensing procedures, obtained blanket malpractice coverage for a fraction of the normal rate, and even coaxed local contractors to donate their construction services.)
Now, the Volunteers in Medicine Institute is using McConnell's model to build a network of free clinics nationwide; so far it's opened 50 clinics from Washington to Georgia. "Every community in this country has all the resources it needs to operate a facility like ours," says the intrepid physician, who at 81 is in the process of starting a clinic in Africa. "But someone has to step up and take the risk."
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.