Bay Area pilot proves successful. Emphasis now is on expansion.

The problem: Too many Americans don’t have health insurance or are under-insured. The Federally Qualified Health Centers (FHQCs) that deliver care to this population are often understaffed and seek additional healthcare expertise.

A solution hidden in plain sight: retired doctors. In 2019, Encore.org launched the Encore Physicians program to match retired doctors who want to continue practicing medicine part-time and mentor younger colleagues with health centers that need additional support.

To date, 15 Encore Physicians have been matched with six centers in five Bay Area counties — with overwhelmingly positive results. The Encore physicians have found the work fulfilling and community health centers have welcomed the care provided by these experienced clinicians.

Now the Encore Physicians team is growing the program in the Bay Area. If you’re interested in becoming an Encore Physician or bringing the program to a FQHC, contact Dr. Mike Rizzo at [email protected]

We recently spoke with several retired physicians and medical directors at health centers that have participated in the program. Learn more about their experience — in their own words — below.

Dr. Jimmy McClean
Encore Physician, La Clínica Pittsburg Medical 

I spent nearly 30 years as an Emergency Physician. I loved the challenge and the energy of the specialty, but over time I tired of working in such a stressful environment and chose to retire. After a few years, though, I missed seeing patients and wanted to do something meaningful within medicine. When I was approached about becoming an Encore Physician, I enthusiastically said yes.

I’ll be 71 in September and most of the people I’ve been working with are physicians assistants or nurse practitioners who are much younger than me. We often bounce things off of each other. I learn from them and they learn from me — it’s collaborative.

When they come to me with a question regarding the care of a patient, I always try to use it as a teaching moment and not just tell them what I think or what they should do. I ask them questions and try to guide them in approaching it in a logical manner. They know they can always come to me, and I will never be too busy to help them out.

While these are my retirement years, being an Encore Physician has allowed me to keep my hand in medicine, teach (which I love) and to provide much needed services to an underserved community. I could see myself doing this for a while.

Dr. Charles Som
Medical Director, La Clínica Pittsburg Medical 

Our turnover rate has always been a problem. We hire mostly nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and most of them work for a few years and then leave. We were already looking for additional providers that could work directly with patients 2-3 days a week, so when we found out about the Encore Physician Program we said, yes, for sure.

We’ve had several Encore Physicians, and Dr. McLean is one of them. Having a provider who is Black is helpful because many of our patients are people of color and it’s easier for them to relate. We love being able to reflect the diversity in our community.

I think the Encore Physician Program is a wonderful idea, and it’s increased our ability to treat patients that need care. The age diversity they bring has been a positive thing, too. A lot of our new hires love to pick the brains of the experienced physicians.

My advice to other medical directors considering this program is to be open-minded and flexible. Availability depends on which doctors are retiring at the time. We weren’t looking for someone with a specialty in emergency medicine, but having Dr. McLean with us has been great. Being open allows you to utilize whatever skills and experience they bring.

Dr. Gill Wright
Encore Physician, Axis Community Health

When I retired from The Permanente Medical Group in January 2020, I thought I might use my leisure time to pursue other interests. But I quickly realized that there were aspects to the practice of medicine and the joy of direct patient care that I was not ready to give up.

Serendipity led me to the Encore Physicians Program and an introduction to Dawnell Moody, MD, the medical director at Axis Healthcare in Pleasanton, California.

They needed a gynecologist who could perform office-based gynecologic procedures, including cancer screening. I’ve now seen many women who had no record of ever having had cancer screening. This presents an opportunity to prevent life-threatening illness from advanced cancers.

I loved my job before retirement — I just didn’t want to continue at the same pace. Being an Encore Physician is giving me more flexibility. I also feel valued and I get to help others, which feels good. I work closely with a brand new graduate, a nurse practitioner. We spend the whole day together. She sees a lot of the patients with me and then presents her conclusions to me. I believe we both find our mentoring relationship rewarding.

Dr. Dawnell Moody
Chief Medical Officer, Axis Community Health

I always knew I wanted to work in an underserved area because of the heart and the passion that people bring. You’re providing healthcare to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it. There are easier places to work in medicine, but I think this is the most rewarding.

The Encore Physician idea caught my interest, especially for specialties we are strapped to find for under-insured patients. Our first Encore Physician was a podiatrist and he really opened up access for a lot of people who would have had to travel 30 minutes to get care.

From there we started to take other specialists in OB-GYN, internal medicine and orthopedics, allowing us to further expand our services internally. We’ve now had five Encore Physicians, so yeah, I am clearly a fan.

I think it’s an amazing resource for FQHCs because these retired doctors are coming with a wealth of experience and a lot of them love to teach and to pass on their expertise to our younger staff. It’s a win-win for both sides and a great program.

Dr. Sue Labbe
Chief Medical Officer, Alliance Medical Center

The first time I heard about the Encore Physician Program I thought, wow, what a great opportunity for a rural health center like mine to bring on board someone with high-caliber talent interested in working with a vulnerable and underserved population.

We hired Dr. Boylan two years ago, and having a cardiologist on staff has been a total game-changer. Her expertise has eliminated all of the previous challenges created by having to refer patients out for specialty cardiology care. It’s a huge gift, especially when working with a population that has a hard time with transportation or getting time off work to go see specialists in San Francisco. That’s a huge burden for working poor families to have to do that.

What I found through Dr. Boylan and the other retired doctors I’ve spoken with is that they’re really interested in sharing their knowledge and teaching our staff things. They enjoy that piece of it, and it’s helped to grow the skillset of our staff as well.

When you live in a rural area, the cost of living is pretty expensive, so trying to recruit people to the area can be challenging. Pre-Covid we couldn’t do all the telehealth we’re doing now, so I’m excited about the potential to bring on other Encore Physicians that can do telehealth if they don’t live nearby. We can reach hard-to-reach patients with experts in the field.

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If you’re interested in becoming an Encore Physician or bringing the program to a FQHC, contact Mike Rizzo at [email protected]

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