When Dr. Leonard Glass, a board certified general surgeon, plastic surgeon and reconstructive surgeon, retired ten years ago, he thought he was leaving medicine for good. But then he read about the shortage of family medicine doctors in America and became concerned. “At the time, it was estimated that there was a shortage of 33,000 family doctors in the nation, which was expected to double in the next twelve or thirteen years,” Glass says. “I searched around and there was nothing being done about it.”
So Dr. Glass found himself active in the medical world once again, this time as the founder of Physician Retraining and Reentry, an online educational program that seeks to aid our country’s primary care needs. This week, we chatted with Dr. Glass about his inspiration for the program and the future of American medicine.
Q: What drove you to start Physician Retraining and Reentry?
About three years ago, I began reading about this shortage of family doctors. I searched around and there was nothing being done about it. There have been four or five new medical schools built, but there are no more in the pipeline. They produce a very small number of family doctors. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants help fill the gap but they aren’t making a huge dent.
So I reached out to some of my contacts and came up with the concept of taking physicians who are retired or nearing retirement or physicians of other types – physicians who are leaving the military, for example, or those thinking of retiring for other reasons – and retraining them. The program we’ve come up with is called Physician Retraining and Reentry.
Q: What do physicians experience within this program?
We have physicians of many types taking the program. I thought that over 95 percent of participants would be retired and that’s not true. It’s only about a third. The rest are of varied backgrounds. We have a number of obstetricians who are physically exhausted from work and are thinking of transitioning into something more livable. We have many women who dropped out of practice early to start a family and now want to get back to work. We have military people who are now retired but want to get back into patient care.
All the education is done online. The curriculum is divided into fifteen courses, which range from cardiology to dermatology, and are all critical to practicing family medicine. Participants move at their own pace and have one year to finish the program. At the end of the educational process, people come to San Diego to take a one day practical exam where they see mock patients. They are videotaped doing a history, limited physical exam and working out diagnostics and treatment. They are also awarded 180 hours of AMA PRA Category 1 credits from the UC San Diego School of Medicine, and we assist them in finding part-time or full-time jobs in the United States.
Q: What is the overarching goal of the program?
Our goal is to help people go into practicing family medicine. With emerging clinics in CVS and Walgreens, and opportunities at federally qualified health centers and VA Clinics, there are many jobs available and they’re scattered throughout the country. And these places are the last safety net for many people who need access to healthcare.
Q: Why do we have a primary care shortage in this country?
We have it for many reasons. First of all the population is growing. Second, doctors in some specialties are retiring earlier than ever to enjoy the benefits of being retired after many years of hard work. Every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 in this country and for many of them it is their first opportunity to experience health insurance via Medicare – they need a family doctor. The Affordable Care Act is predicted by some people to increase the number of insured patients by up to 30 million. Also, up until recently family doctors were underpaid; that is being corrected to a significant degree.
Q: What could be fixed by bringing more primary care physicians into medicine?
Healthcare will become more accessible. Systems get backed up now because of the lack of family doctors. We want everybody to have access to healthcare delivery by first seeing a family doctor if that’s what is appropriate.
Q: Why do you think so many doctors are retiring from medicine?
A lot of them are overworked, physically tired and psychologically burned out. We get a lot of calls inquiring about our program from OBGYNs. We have three or four psychiatrists in our program who now want to go into family medicine. A lot of people went to medical school because they thought they would be family doctors and it didn’t work out that way. Now they can get back to patient care.
Q: Why should retired doctors be interested in this opportunity?
It’s affordable. Everything is included in our fee – outsourcing of the final practical exam, textbooks, electronic books and more. We offer an interest free payment plan. As far as I know, there’s also nobody else doing what we do. If there are specialists out there that want to do family medicine, we’re the only way they can do it.We do not educate medical students, interns or residents; we only educate seasoned physicians with active medical licenses. Plus, the program gives some disabled physicians the opportunity to return to medicine – those who have had eye surgery or surgery on their hands can practice family medicine.
Q: What drives you to keep moving forward with this endeavor, especially within our broken healthcare system?
Somebody’s got to do it. If nobody is doing it or has done it then maybe it’s my responsibility as a physician and as a citizen who has benefited from all the great things this country has to offer to keep people as healthy as possible. I had the time, interest, ambition and access to people who provided the venture capital to get this company going. Why not do it?
This story was made possible by considerations from Physician Retraining and Reentry.
Soniya Shah is an on-staff contributing writer at MedTech Boston. She's a senior at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BS in technical writing. She has experience as a ghost writer and medical writer, and in developing software documentation.
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