NOEL KING, HOST:
State officials are worried about their health care workers getting sick while they fight coronavirus, so states are trying new ways to increase the workforce. Here is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Dr. Judy Salerno doesn't think of herself as a retiree. She works full-time as president of a public health group called New York Academy of Medicine. But she is essentially retired from clinical practice.
Last week, she got word that the New York State Health Department was looking for retired physicians to volunteer to help during the coronavirus crisis. Even though she's in her 60s and at higher risk of getting seriously sick from COVID-19, she didn't hesitate.
JUDY SALERNO: I do have clinical skills. And I feel that as a physician, I have a moral responsibility to use those skills when there are people in need.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So she signed up with the state health department. They verified her credentials. Next, she heard from New York City, where she lives, asking about her specific skills. She's a general internist and geriatrician. Now, every day...
SALERNO: There's a dashboard. And I sign in to see what's needed and if any of my skills match what people are asking for in terms of health personnel.
HUMAYUN CHAUDHRY: It's an all-hands-on-deck circumstance.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Dr. Humayun Chaudhry is president and CEO of the Federation of State Medical Boards, which is tracking all the ways that states are making emergency changes to their licensing rules to allow for more doctors to meet the needs in this epidemic. Many are allowing out-of-state physicians to practice, which isn't usually allowed. Others are doing what New York state is doing and bringing in retired physicians. Not everyone loves that particular approach.
IRWIN REDLENER: This idea of bringing in retired doctors or nurses I pretty strongly object to.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Dr. Irwin Redlener. He directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. He says the risks posed to those older workers are just too great. He has other ideas, from getting plastic surgeons and other specialists trained up to working with veterinarians or dentists. He also points out there's another pool of potential workers.
REDLENER: International medical graduates - IMGs. And these are doctors who have gone to medical school in some other country. They've come to the United States, where they would like to practice medicine.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: But the current rules require redoing years of medical training. He suggests that should be reconsidered right now. Chaudhry, of the Federation of State Medical Boards, says another potential pool...
CHAUDHRY: We're also exploring ways in which we can have our nation's medical students be more actively engaged.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Right now, third- and fourth-year medical students are at home, like the rest of us. All med student rotations at hospitals have been canceled because of the lack of personal protective equipment and the risk of exposure.
Palak Patel is a fourth-year med student at Midwestern University. She says med students all over the country are trading ideas on Slack for how to volunteer right now. She organized a sign-up for Chicago and its suburbs to match health workers who need pet or babysitting, or clinics that need someone to answer patient phone calls, with med student volunteers.
PALAK PATEL: It's been really great. I've been actually overwhelmed. My email is just blowing up.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: When hospitals and health systems figure out how to put med students like her to work treating patients or otherwise addressing the crisis more directly, she says she'll be ready.
Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.
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