Retiring from the practice of medicine after thirty-three years (with an additional nine years of training) had many benefits. Ten hour working days were over as were seven day work weeks. Night call ended as were the accompanying treks into the hospital and emergency room at odd hours. There were no more interminable evening group meetings, early morning and late afternoon administrative meetings, or tightly regulated vacation schedules. And the financial pressure to schedule patients within restricted time limits ended. But there was a negative aspect as well. Physicians are driven by the need to do good and that need is satisfied in the practice of medicine and that need remains after retirement. Caring for patients is the core of a physician’s identity and losing that has a major effect. So does leaving the care team(s) that I was so closely related to and dependent upon. It was the loss of a sense of mission, the lack of caring for patients and the missing interaction with other providers that caused me to volunteer at the Senior Friendship Clinic in Naples.
Volunteering at the clinic has certainly fulfilled the deficits created by retirement. But more than that, it has opened a new aspect of caring for patients and new challenges brought on by their practical needs. Our patients struggle with daily life as well as cultural and language barriers compared to most patients in a “standard” medical practice. Their financial situation frequently precludes the use of advanced specialty care and testing and often results in their reluctance to seek care for disease in the early stage. They have major issues affording even low priced medication. Even obtaining transportation to the clinic can be an obstacle to care. As a physician, these issues require more time for patient visits and require more of the clinical skills in which we were trained. Interaction with the team is even more important in the clinic setting. The appreciation of our patients, seen on a daily basis, is far greater than in the usual setting.
Despite the obstacles and delays that caring for these patients with limited resources and significant need, participating in their care is undeniably fulfilling.Anonymous,