Concerns for clinicians over 65 grow in the face of COVID-19


When Judith Salerno, MD, heard that New York was calling for volunteer clinicians to assist with the COVID-19 response, she didn’t hesitate to sign up.

Dr. Judith Salerno of the New York Academy of Medicine

Dr. Judith Salerno

Although Dr. Salerno, 68, has held administrative, research, and policy roles for 25 years, she has kept her medical license active and always found ways to squeeze some clinical work into her busy schedule.

“I have what I could consider ‘rusty’ clinical skills, but pretty good clinical judgment,” said Dr. Salerno, president of the New York Academy of Medicine. “I thought in this situation that I could resurrect and hone those skills, even if it was just taking care of routine patients and working on a team, there was a lot of good I can do.”

Dr. Salerno is among 80,000 health care professionals who have volunteered to work temporarily in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic as of March 31, 2020, according to New York state officials. In mid-March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) issued a plea for retired physicians and nurses to help the state by signing up for on-call work. Other states have made similar appeals for retired health care professionals to return to medicine in an effort to relieve overwhelmed hospital staffs and aid capacity if health care workers become ill. Such redeployments, however, are raising concerns about exposing senior physicians to a virus that causes more severe illness in individuals aged over 65 years and kills them at a higher rate.

Dr. Douglas O. Staiger of Dartmouth University

Dr. Douglas O. Staiger

At the same time, a significant portion of the current health care workforce is aged 55 years and older, placing them at higher risk for serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19, said Douglas O. Staiger, PhD, a researcher and economics professor at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. Dr. Staiger recently coauthored a viewpoint in JAMA called “Older clinicians and the surge in novel coronavirus disease 2019,” which outlines the risks and mortality rates from the novel coronavirus among patients aged 55 years and older.


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