Delivering babies is all in a day’s work for San Francisco-based ob-gyn Laurie Green. But one birth stands out in her mind.
Several years ago, Green, 68, delivered the grandchild of one of her medical school professors and casually asked the mother about the professor’s post-retirement plans. She was surprised to learn he was still searching for a new path to follow.
“Here was this vital, intelligent man who couldn’t find a meaningful way to continue utilizing his medical skills and expertise,” Green says.
Sadly, Green learned that the professor’s situation wasn’t unique. As president of the Harvard Medical School Alumni Association from 2013 to 2014, Green had heard from many physicians who were retired or semiretired and wanted to continue providing patient care without handling the business side.
Green also realized the U.S. was facing a serious shortage of physicians. A 2017 study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicted the U.S. will need an extra 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by the year 2030. And as the boomers age, the AAMC says their chronic medical needs will tax an already strained system.
“About half of U.S. health centers serve patients who live in low-income and rural areas where long distances and the scarcity of health care services can make access a challenge,” Green says. “I remember thinking how great it would be if we could tap into the expertise of retired and semiretired physicians to fill in these gaps where doctors are needed most.”
In 2014, Green founded the MAVEN (Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network) Project, a multi-state group of volunteer physicians who use telemedicine to offer specialty consultations to primary care providers for underserved patients and offer guidance and support to community health providers. The project currently operates in California, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Washington and South Dakota and plans to expand nationally. Funding for the project has been provided through community grants and donations.
“Community health clinics often have financial constraints, limited resources and difficulty providing specialty care,” Green says. “We currently have 100 semiretired and retired doctors in our database, and we match them with clinics who need their expertise or invite them to present educational talks to community physicians.”
Pairing Physicians with Clinics in Underserved Areas
Alexander Yi, a cardiologist in Boston and a MAVEN volunteer physician for the past two years, has been working with the Lynn Community Health Center in Lynn, Mass., to conduct telehealth consultations with patients on issues such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“A nurse practitioner from the clinic is the primary care provider who facilitates visits with patients while I provide a remote video consultation,” Yi says. “By bringing cardiology directly to the clinic, we can treat patients who may have difficulty traveling long distances to receive specialty care due to financial constraints or mobility issues.”
Debra Cohen, a semiretired pediatric endocrinologist from Santa Clara, Calif., joined the MAVEN Project two years ago and has been providing remote consultations to young patients with diabetes. She currently volunteers eight to 10 hours each month but hopes to take on more.
“The MAVEN Project is one of the most efficient and well-organized nonprofits I’ve ever worked with,” Cohen says. “From ensuring that volunteer doctors are covered by malpractice insurance, to matching physicians with a clinic, to training us on how to use telemedicine equipment that is compliant with patient protection laws, they make it a seamless process.”
Cohen says she enjoys working with local health clinics to address problems their pediatric patients might be having with blood sugar and diabetes-related complications.
“Prior to learning about the MAVEN Project, the only volunteer work I knew of for physicians was traveling outside the U.S. and serving on a medical mission,” Cohen says. “The MAVEN Project allows physicians to work in their own homes, and they are very flexible about scheduling and working around vacations or other commitments.”
In addition to providing retired physicians with meaningful volunteer opportunities, Green says the MAVEN Project works to create a community for physicians who have retired or downsized their practice.
“Doctors work in large student cohorts as they progress through medical school, and then work with colleagues throughout their career,” Green explains. “Suddenly in retirement, they become isolated and no longer have that interaction with others who share their medical mindset.”
The MAVEN Project recently held appreciation events in San Francisco and Boston for volunteer physicians.
“It was wonderful to see the doctors so engaged with one another,” Green says.