Coronavirus: 6 Considerations for Retired Physicians Seeking to Help

By Christopher Cheney

The American Medical Association (AMA) is providing guidance to retired physicians who are willing to help during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

There is widespread concern over the potential for healthcare worker shortages during surges of COVID-19 patients across the country in the weeks and months ahead. For example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a plea this week to healthcare workers in other states to come to The Empire State to bolster hospital staffing.

“I am asking healthcare professionals across the country, if you do not have a healthcare crisis in your community, please come help us in New York now,” Cuomo said.

In announcing the guidance to retired physicians, AMA President Patrice Harris, MD, MA, said in a prepared statement that there are several considerations for these doctors as they weigh returning to medical practice.

“As with all people in high-risk age groups, careful consideration must be given to the health and safety of retired physicians and their immediate family members, especially those with chronic medical conditions. The availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the opportunity to provide non-direct patient care are also special considerations,” Harris said.

The AMA guidance to retired physicians features six factors they should consider.

1. Licensure: Retired physicians should check the licensing regulations in their state, the AMA guidance says.

“The licensure status of retired physicians varies by state. In some states retired physicians maintain their regular license while others create a separate category for retired or inactive physicians, and still others have no license category for retired physicians. In response to COVID-19, many states have taken action to allow retired physicians to temporarily return to practice through an executive order, department of health order, or board of medicine directive.”

The path to re-entry is another licensure consideration, the AMA guidance says.

“For senior and retired physicians who maintain an active license, there are no licensure restrictions on re-entry to practice. For physicians who maintain an inactive, retired physician, or similar license, your state may have temporarily waived any barriers to re-entry.  We encourage you to check the Federation of State Medical Boards’ COVID-19 resource on state actions on license status for inactive/retired physicians for guidance.”

Retired physicians should also consult with their state medical boards, the AMA guidance says.

2. Contributing effort: There are multiple ways for retired physicians to participate in COVID-19 pandemic response that do not include direct patient care, the AMA guidance says:

  • Work in telehealth and administrative capacities
  • State health departments need volunteer clinicians and healthcare workers
  • Contact medical schools and offer to provide online teaching and mentoring for medical students
  • Donate blood
  • Social isolation is a challenge at nursing homes and senior residential communities—offer to provide online outreach
  • Help physician practices in your community to create patient education materials

3. Working at your former physician practice: “Explore opportunities to provide mentoring or training in your practice location. Many institutions have developed algorithms for telephone triage and/or assessment of symptomatic patients,” the AMA guidance says.

4. Liability: There are several considerations for liability coverage, the AMA guidance says.

  • Check for coverage through your local health system
  • For licensed physicians who volunteer, the third federal economic COVID-19 stimulus package (H.R. 748), includes liability protections
  • For retired physicians who have authorization to prescribe and administer COVID-19 treatments, there may be liability immunity under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act)
  • Contact your state medical association to see whether you have liability protections under state law such as a recent gubernatorial executive order

5. Retirement income: “Some physicians are receiving retirement income that may be affected by a return to paid employment. Check the status of your retirement income according to the role you are being asked to perform,” the AMA guidance says.

6. Clarify your role: If you will be working at a healthcare facility, ask questions about the role you will be playing such as the activities you will perform, provision of training or mentoring, and whether you will be given personal protective equipment.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.