Regarding “old timers,” as you may have guessed, the only one I know a lot about is yours truly; I did no research for this column. I do know a bit about some colleagues of my generation, but I will start out with me.
When I retired from academia in 2001, it was the end of a long series of discussions with my consigliere, my wife, Pat—meaning, as you may know, one's closest and most trusted advisor. She knows me better than anyone and has a deep well of wisdom; she is not afraid to differ with me, usually by raising provocative and insightful questions. She brushes away my wooly thinking and asks simple and direct-to-the-point questions as we go through the process of change, which we have done when considering a new job (six of which resulted in moves).
Pat has helped me focus with simple and straightforward comments, questions, and opinions. As I have noted before, when I told her I was ready to retire, she said, “Retirement is not a long weekend; it is forever. What are you going to do with your free time? You aren't going to hang around the house all day, are you?”
She knew me well enough to foresee that unless I had something to do, in a short time that would drive me (and her) nuts. She nudged me (gently) forward on my ideas about a consulting practice.
So I created “Simone Consulting,” as a part time, one-man business. I work from home and I don't need the income to survive, so I can be choosy and take only jobs that interest me. A major bonus of this work is much more time at home with Pat. We then moved to Atlanta, which at the time was the only place we had grandchildren (more turned up later) and experienced the grandparents' joy of watching the babies grow and develop. It is a magical experience that I would not trade for a Nobel Prize (not an option, to be sure).
The other advantage of the part-time work was that it gave me tremendous freedom to do things other than the usual academic activity. For example, for about 10 years I was a volunteer physician at an inpatient hospice in Atlanta, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, which accepts only end-stage cancer patients. Care is free and they accept no insurance or donations from family members. The staff was amazingly efficient, knowledgeable, and caring. It was inspiring. Working with the staff helped me to re-learn (or re-appreciate) the power of the basic principles and unselfish values of being a doctor. It was both educational and satisfying (see more in my column in OT's 1/10/05 issue).
At about the same time I started working there, I was asked to start this column for Oncology Times. My first one appeared in September 2003 and I have been writing the column ever since. I have a lot of leeway on what to write about, so in addition to medical issues, some columns are about personal matters—ironically, or maybe not so much, I have had more feedback on the personal columns than on the medical or scientific ones.
I have had the time to think about and write columns that I might not have had before retirement. The “free” time also allowed me to serve on external advisory committees of NCI-designated cancer centers, where I learned about new cancer research developments and cancer center adaptations to the constantly changing field of cancer care and the academic political landscape. I got an education every time I went to one of those meetings... and still do.
My most recent use of the “free” time requires some explanation. First, some background: I went to college at Loyola University in Chicago. It is one of the many educational institutions of the Society of Jesus, known better as the Jesuits. The religious order has a stellar record of educating students, particularly in high school and colleges. My undergraduate years were wonderful. It was my first in-depth exposure to philosophy, poetry, and drama in addition to the sciences. There were also practical activities. For example, many of us pre-meds were offered a non-credit course in Latin and Greek words and phrases that are the sources of most medical and scientific terminology. That has served me well ever since, allowing me to intuit an unknown word from its Latin or Greek root structure.
Fast forward to 2014. I learned that the Jesuits were starting a high school in Atlanta. It is called Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. It will serve underprivileged young people with an intense and broadly based education that prepares them for college. Most of these students are Hispanic or African-American, and 60 percent are female. The school in Atlanta opened its doors this summer. The first class of 100 or so will eventually grow to a total of 500 students. Students must have a job one day a week to help parents pay for notebooks and other needs. The school is tuition-free. The applicants go through a lengthy screening process to assess the likelihood that they will work hard, have strong support from their families, and ensure that they speak English sufficiently well to handle the workload.
The first of these schools was opened in Chicago in 1996, and there are now more than 20 across the country (www.cristorey.net), all coeducational and serving the poor and underprivileged. Almost 100 percent of students graduate, and a significant number go on to college.
So what does this have to do with me? I learned that they needed help from volunteer doctors who would do physical exams pro bono of the new students, a requirement for starting school. So I contacted a friend at Emory, who put me in touch with the chair of pediatrics. She circulated an email I wrote describing the need. A dozen doctors volunteered, including two residents. And importantly, several nurses also volunteered to help with the paper work, recording weights and blood pressure and testing vision—making the process fluid and pleasant.
The examinations of 50 students took place in July, a few days before the start of school. (Other students opted to get the exam from their local clinics or family doctors.) The enthusiasm of the volunteers to be a part of this was heartwarming. Emory has a clinic headed by Dr. Stephanie Addison nearby, specifically for teens and adolescents. She sees a great opportunity to follow these kids and track their progress, and also to have a sufficient volume for teaching residents and fellows the specific medical and social issues faced by teenagers.
So for me, these are some of the answers to the question in the title. Many colleagues in my generation have done similar work, also pro bono, to help those in need. These are very gratifying activities that often pop up without notice. It took many weeks to arrange the physical exams in order to be in compliance with local and state regulations, but I had the time to spend on it because I “work” only part time.
I am also sure that there will be other needs in the new high school that we docs could help address, and I hope we will end up with a few new physicians and nurses from this inaugural student group.
One of the nurses in the clinic said that we were doing the work of the angels. I can't argue with that. And in all likelihood if I hadn't retired, I would have done none of the things that “popped up” and would have been much poorer for the loss.