Reflecting On A Void-Free Retirement Three Years After Stepping Away From Podiatry

John H. McCord, DPM

The last three years have gone by fast. I loaded a few banker’s boxes of personal items such as diplomas, board certificates and pictures of my granddaughters into the trunk of my car. Then I stepped back into the office for a last look. It was my last day of being a podiatrist.

   I set my office keys on my desk, set the security alarm and locked myself out.

   I reflected on the most precious things that I had to leave behind. The most difficult was the bond I had developed with my patients over 34 years in this community.

   It was also difficult to sever the bonds that I had developed with my staff, co-workers and patients. They made my work life fun and rewarding. I had become a surrogate father to my staff and a surrogate grandfather to the really young new employees.

   I worried that the void in my heart I was creating by retiring might never be filled.

   The void did not last long. The administrator of our community hospital asked if I would take a part-time job as a physician consultant involved in special projects and no patient care. This created a dilemma. I have always been vocally critical of consultants and considered them a waste of money. The administrator had a sly smile on her face when she saw me squirm about the new job title.

   The first assignment was to develop a plan to encourage patients with low acuity problems to see their primary care provider or use an urgent care clinic. Our ER was being deluged with patients who used the ER for minor things like upper respiratory infections and constipation.

   It seemed like an easy job. They assigned me cubicle space in a dark, musty room that I shared with the transcription staff. They liked to visit and chatter with me.

   A committee helped me with the project. I assembled the most creative physicians, dentists, administrators and seasoned ER nurses to brainstorm over utilization of the ER. The administrator was concerned over my apparent lack of processing skills and assigned a green-belt facilitator to keep my committee in line.

   We pretty much ignored the facilitator. My marching orders were to develop a consensus of what the problem was, formulate a plan to solve it and sell the plan to the higher ups. This was beginning to look like another three-year project with no useful conclusion.

   Our facilitator was a smart woman who was working toward a master’s degree in medical administration. I have grown to admire and respect her, but I did it my way. We came up with a plan of providing space on the campus for a walk-in clinic, operated by a federally qualified health center. The clinic opened seven months after our committee formed. The percentage of low-level ER visits dropped by 49 percent in the first year of operation. I promised to learn or at least think about process for my next assignment.

   The next assignment was to develop a program to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity. I had a committee of people who really liked process. We accomplished practically nothing during the next year.

   I gathered my renegade committee and launched a childhood healthy eating program. We held a series of lectures on health, nutrition, exercise and a lesson on how to shop in a supermarket for healthy and cost-effective nutrition. The results of this project will manifest over each participant’s life span.

   There has been no void in my heart caused by retirement. The bonds I made with my patients have remained.

   My wife and I had a visit with a family yesterday. The mother of the family became a patient of mine when she was 9 when her foster mother brought her for evaluation of juvenile hallux valgus. The girl experienced many horrible things during her teen years. I helped as much as I could, mainly by just listening.

   I had lost track of her after I retired. I got a note from her six months after I retired, asking if we could meet for coffee. She let me know that I was the closest thing she had to a father and thanked me.

   She came for a visit recently to show us her new baby girl and to say goodbye since she and her husband were moving to another state.

   That void I worried about did not occur. I still love my job as a retired DPM, physician consultant and surrogate grandpa.

   Dr. McCord retired in December 2008 from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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