Video: Doctors choose work over retirement

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/31/2006 6:30:31 PM ET 2006-08-31T22:30:31

Dr. David Thayer is 56 years old and retired three years. But he's on his way to work in Bend, Ore.

2,200 miles away, in Jasper, Ga., Bill Booth, a 64-year-old retired emergency room doctor, is also heading to work.

What's going on here?

Ask these boomer-age doctors why they first got into medicine.

"Yes, I did want to make the world a better place," says Booth.

"[It's] a good way to occupy your days on this earth, help other people," says Thayer.

A scrapbook of the 1960s would show Thayer still in college and Booth treating wounded soldiers on a hospital ship off the coast of Vietnam. It was a time of political unrest, with young social leaders fighting for change.

Forty years later, doctors Thayer and Booth are still trying to change things for the better — one patient at a time.

They work, along with hundreds of others including nurses and technicians, for nothing, at clinics run by Volunteers in Medicine. Their patients are people like Hurdis Patterson, a 66-year-old diabetic going through "hard times."

"There are a certain amount of people that just can't afford good health," says Patterson. "Thank God for this place."

Another patient is Marva Munson, a cook with carpal tunnel syndrome, earning minimum wage and no insurance.

"They really do spend time to listen and take care of you," she says.

The work by Volunteers in Medicine comes at a critical time for health care in America. As baby boomers get older and need more medical care, there will be fewer doctors available.

"We have a confluence of events on the supply and demand side that I think is likely to lead to serious shortages," says Ed Salsberg of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The 46 clinics run by the volunteers will not solve the doctor crunch, but they give older doctors a hassle-free environment and the chance to continue to do what they love.

"Medicine today in private practice is just full of headaches and paperwork," says Booth.

"If you're not part of the solution of health care, you're part of the problem," says Thayer, "and at a one-by-one basis, this is part of the solution."

They are a couple of baby boomers who got into medicine to serve. Now, they're back at work, in a new definition of retirement.

"American Boomers" is a new segment on "NBC Nightly News," focusing on the generation that's always broken the rules. Stories will air at least twice per month on the broadcast.

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