By Michelle Cerulli McAdams
When Deborah Brigell first heard about the Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network (MAVEN) Project last year, she had already begun scaling back her medical practice and was trying to find a way to give back.
“I was really looking for meaningful volunteer work where I could use my skills as an endocrinologist and specialist, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity,” said Brigell, 61, who is based in Boston.
“I was intrigued by the MAVEN Project and its mission. I think what they’re doing is really unique,” she said.
Since joining the project, Brigell has been using telehealth technology to consult with staff physicians at two clinics in South Florida, primarily on diabetes- and thyroid-related cases.
The MAVEN Project matches volunteer physicians, most of whom are retired or semiretired, to underserved communities across the country. Through video conferencing, the doctors consult with primary care providers in community health centers, providing education, mentoring and guidance in managing complex medical conditions.
MAVEN Project volunteers, who are from U.S.-accredited medical schools, undergo background and credentialing checks and receive malpractice insurance. So far, the project’s physician volunteers—who commit at least four hours of their time per month—work with clinics in Florida, Massachusetts, California, New York and Washington.
“We’re matching the needs of clinics with the skills of our volunteers,” said Laurie Green, the project’s founder and president.
Volunteers have collaborated with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Pediatric Mobile Clinic, the Universal Heritage Institute CommunityCare Clinic in Miami Gardens and Florida International University’s Mobile Health Center, which all provide free care to low-income, uninsured and underinsured Miami-Dade County residents.
Roughly 1 in 12 Americans receive medical care from a community health center. Many of these clinics lack adequate resources and access to specialists. Patients are often uninsured or underinsured, low-income and living in an area where there is a shortage of doctors and nurses.
Green, 68, who was recently named an AARP Purpose Prize fellow, came up with the idea for the MAVEN Project in 2012.
“As soon as we knew the Affordable Care Act was going to become reality, we knew a lot of people who were previously uninsured would seek health care, often presenting with untreated illnesses to their local community health center,” said Green, who runs an ob-gyn practice in San Francisco.
The project launched its first pilots in Massachusetts and California in 2015. Then it set its sights on the Sunshine State.
Brigell says it’s fulfilling to be providing help in situations where people might not have access to this kind of support.
“I like that I’m contributing to help address health disparities,” she said. “It also forces me to keep current in my specialty and keep up my mentoring skills.”
The MAVEN Project team hopes to keep expanding to additional states in order to reach more patients.
Green noted that 36 percent of the country’s physicians are 55 or older “and the compelling reason we started MAVEN project was that so many of our constituents were retiring from the ‘grind’ that medicine had become but still wanted to give back, to use their years of earned wisdom in the service of others. Medicine for them was a life of purpose, and physicians wanted to extend that privilege but on their own terms.”
For more information about the MAVEN Project nationwide, go to mavenproject.org .
Michelle Cerulli McAdams is a writer living in Gainesville.