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Coronavirus May Call On Retired Medical Workers To Come Back To Work

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Our colleague Todd Zwillich over at 1A, the talk show from WAMU, tweeted over the weekend. He was tweeting about a letter, and the letter was addressed to his dad, Clifford Zwillich - Dr. Zwillich, which is relevant here. Clifford Zwillich practiced as a pulmonary critical care physician for 50 years. He's been retired for three. And the letter he received begins, quote, "the state of Colorado is seeing an increasing demand for qualified health care professionals to assist in the testing, treatment and care of patients with COVID-19." Dr. Zwillich was being approached about the possibility of being called back into action. Well, he's on the line now from Carbondale, Colo.

Dr. Zwillich, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CLIFFORD ZWILLICH: Thank you. Good afternoon.

KELLY: What went through your mind as you read this letter?

ZWILLICH: I was pleased that the state of Colorado was trying to free up additional physicians in view of the European and Chinese experience of too few health care professionals during their peak.

KELLY: May I just ask - you - I said you've been retired for three years.

ZWILLICH: Yeah.

KELLY: How old are you?

ZWILLICH: I'm 78 years old.

KELLY: Seventy-eight years old - and you thought you'd hung up your stethoscope for good at - what? - 75, I guess.

ZWILLICH: Indeed, I did.

KELLY: What are the medical licensing requirements? I assume you still don't have an active license to practice in Colorado.

ZWILLICH: Correct. I have a inactive license, so they made it clear in the letter that inactive physicians could practice if called upon to do so under these emergent conditions.

KELLY: Would you want to?

ZWILLICH: I would be willing to help out, but I would be very interested in learning from the institution that wants me to assist them that they are taking good preventive measures for their health care professionals to make sure that I wasn't bringing the virus back from the workplace into my home environment.

KELLY: I mean, I'll note you're talking about protecting your family. You yourself, at 78, are in the high-risk...

ZWILLICH: Yes, I am.

KELLY: ...Group because of age. I assume all - most retired physicians, nurses, other medical workers would be.

ZWILLICH: Yeah. Yes, I am. I am, however, to some degree, confident I am healthy. I have no medical conditions known to alter the prognosis, but, of course, that has to be taken into consideration. I am 78.

KELLY: It sounds - given the risk, the fact that you are considering this at all suggests there is a part of you that wants to serve at a moment of national emergency.

ZWILLICH: Well, I couldn't agree with you more. I happen to miss medicine. I loved it when I did it, so it would be a little bit odd not to stand up and get involved if it's really necessary. You know, I don't have the skills to do some of the stuff I used to do - putting tubes into patients' lungs, putting tubes into their chest walls, what have you. I wouldn't want to be put in a position to do that because I haven't done it in quite a while.

KELLY: Yeah.

ZWILLICH: However, what I'm probably still pretty good at is examining sick people, how to triage such people. That, probably, I could do quite well.

KELLY: If you decide to do this, what's the next step? Is there a place where you're supposed to turn up, a call you're supposed to make? What happens?

ZWILLICH: Yeah. Well, I think what - now that I've gotten this letter from the state, I think I'm going to call the chief of staff of both the hospital that is east of us and the hospital that's west of us 20 miles and question them about their need for my services. And then there's this final step. After having that information, I could not walk out of the house heading to the hospital without having the blessings of my wife.

KELLY: Doctor Zwillich, thank you.

ZWILLICH: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's Clifford Zwillich speaking with us there from Carbondale, Colo. He is a retired physician weighing, as you heard, coming out of retirement in this moment of national emergency. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.