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Volunteers in Medicine:
A Culture of Caring

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 3)  

Currently, in the U.S., there are over 70 VIM clinics now established in 23 states and this program is the only national nonprofit dedicated to assisting communities in developing free clinics. According to Amy Hamlin, executive director of Volunteers in Medicine, “No community can be truly healthy if a significant portion of the population is excluded from basic health care services. Volunteers in Medicine is one solution to offering health care to everyone, in the absence of a national health policy. In addition, empowering retired physicians to practice medicine without the challenges of the red tape and insurance paperwork is the practical approach offered by VIM.” A new trend is beginning to emerge. This year alone, VIM clinics are reporting a 30-50 percent increase in demand for services due to the recent economic downturn. Many of those served are self-employed and in the middle class. Unfortunately, the contributions and donations heavily relied upon for clinic support have shown a decrease of 20 percent.

The value of continued caregiving throughout the retirement years is priceless. Retired medical personnel are a vital, untapped resource and may be one of our nation’s best kept secrets. Retirement, although eagerly sought after over a lifetime, can bring about feelings of disappointment and a loss of worth and purpose in everyday life. Many older adults mistakenly retire “from” a career instead of retiring “to” another purposeful activity beyond golf, travel and card clubs. One of the losses physicians may experience, for example, is their self-image and identity as a healer. In addition, work provides a place to “go” each day and a significant loss can occur when there is suddenly no need or expectation to be some place. Grief and loss can occur, yet finding new identities and productivity in volunteering can greatly ease these feelings.

Retired medical professionals such as physicians, nurses, dentists, social workers, dieticians, or pharmacists and non-medical professionals such as chaplains and clerical staff are often looking for meaningful ways to continue serving, practicing their skills and sharing their lifetime of knowledge. Serving in a VIM clinic is one way to fulfill these personal service goals. These professionals have already spent a lifetime caring for others and now have an opportunity to serve once again, only in an enhanced volunteer capacity with a flexible and less demanding schedule.


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