Retraining Program Opens New Doors for Physicians

Since its inception in 2013, Physician Retraining & Reentry (PRR), an online educational program empowering physicians of all backgrounds with the tools to practice primary care, has enrolled nearly 200 physicians and graduated 50 to date.

Since its inception in 2013, Physician Retraining & Reentry (PRR) has enrolled nearly 200 physicians and graduated 50 to date. PRR, an online educational program created in collaboration with University of California (UC), San Diego School of Medicine faculty, is empowering physicians of all backgrounds with the tools to practice primary care.

“We’ve made tremendous progress,” says founder and president Leonard Glass, MD. “We’re through the difficult part, which was convincing people that we can do what we said we were going to do. Namely, training people to be competent and enjoy practicing adult outpatient primary care medicine.”

But there have been some pleasant surprises along the way. Three years ago, Glass and his colleagues thought that retired physicians would make up the vast majority of participants. Instead, only 30% to 35% are retired. The rest, Glass says, are burned out physicians from a wide range of specialties, as well as some who, for various reasons, can no longer practice the type of medicine for which they are certified.

“It’s turning out to be a discovery,” Glass says. “There are so many people out there who need our help to stay in the workforce.”

Filling a Need

At age 52, Stefanie Feldman, MD, found herself unable to practice reconstructive plastic surgery due to a retinal problem that left her with limited sight in one eye.

“I went through depression,” Feldman recalls. “I spent how many years to become a surgeon? And how many more years to become a plastic surgeon? It was a very tough transition.”

In her search to stay active in the medical field, even through volunteer work, she came across PRR.

“I felt like it was meant for me,” Feldman says. “A lot of people, especially surgeons, are attracted to this program because we don’t have a good handle on general medicine. We were busy doing technical stuff.”

Feldman enrolled, and about one year later completed the 15-course, 180-hour program.

“The physical exam stuff was very challenging, because it was the littlest things that I didn’t remember,” she says. “There was so much new material. I felt like I had gone to medical school in the Dark Ages.”

Opening a New Door

During her tenure in reconstructive plastic surgery, Feldman often thought about working in a free clinic. Now, fortified by her year of retraining, that’s exactly what she’s doing, spending one evening each week at the Westminster Free Clinic in Thousand Oaks, California.

“I’d say a large percentage of the patients are Hispanic, and I speak Spanish, so I love that part of it,” Feldman says.

She also works with a scribe, which has helped her over one of the most challenging hurdles for older physicians transitioning to primary care: the computer, and electronic health records.

“It’s not a language we were brought up with,” Feldman explains. “And with my one eye, it’s hard looking at the computer. [Having a scribe] is a real plus. And it allows me to explain things to these students who are interested in medical careers.”

A Logical Source

Glass and his colleagues are working to spread the word about the benefits of PRR. In November he’ll be a participant and presenter at the American Association of Medical Colleges annual convention in Seattle. He’ll be part of a four-person panel discussion on what can be done about the shortage of family doctors.

“We’ve tried many venues to get the word out,” Glass says.

One of those venues was having a booth at the National Federation of State Medical Boards meeting in San Diego a few months ago. That was important, Glass says, because many state medical boards in their disciplinary functions tell recovering physicians that to get their license back after some indiscretion or rule-breaking they have to be brought up to date. Even if they have only lost their license because they were retired for four or five year with no infractions, they still have to be brought up to date.

“They don’t give them any specific guidelines in most instances, and the doctors are left on their own to start surfing the Internet,” Glass says. “We’re trying to get the word out to them that we are the logical source for that retraining.”

And the means by which physicians like Feldman are able to open new doors and change their lives.

“There are some things that I feel better about than I did during years of plastic surgery,” Feldman says. “We are really getting down to the basic problems people have. Some of these people have nowhere else to go. This just fits with what I I’ve always wanted to do. It’s great.”