Myngoc (Mina) Nguyen, MD, grew up in Saigon near an American military base, witnessing firsthand the trauma caused by the Vietnam War.
As a teen, she volunteered at orphanages and nursing homes, leading her to study medicine. She aspired to join Doctors Without Borders, but eventually chose to work at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center as an allergy and immunology specialist for 35 years before retiring in 2021.
Last October, Dr. Nguyen started working twice a month at La Clínica’s San Antonio Neighborhood Health Center in Oakland treating patients needing allergy and immunology care, through the Encore Physicians program.
“It’s about giving back to the community,” said Dr. Nguyen. “I got here because others helped me to get here. I would like to pay it back — and pay it forward.”
Part-time opportunities for retired physicians
Kaiser Permanente helped launch Encore Physicians in partnership with Encore.org (now CoGenerate) in 2018 and has provided critical funding over the years. The program matches retired physicians with clinical roles in Bay Area community health centers to provide affordable health care to these underserved patients regardless of income or insurance status. The community health centers cover the malpractice insurance for Encore physicians working up to 2 days a week and pay these physicians a rate commensurate with other physicians in the health center.
Mike Rizzo, MD, a retired Kaiser Permanente radiologist, is 1 of 2 directors of the Encore Physicians program. He works closely with the community health centers and retired physicians who share the same goal of caring for patients.
“The greatest challenge is finding and recruiting retired physicians — particularly primary care physicians — for part-time work in the community health centers,” said Dr. Rizzo. “I believe there are a bunch of doctors out there who would like to do this kind of thing.”
Currently, 20 Encore physicians work in 15 community health centers in 6 Northern California counties and 7 more physician placements are underway.
Dr. Rizzo said Encore has helped clinics broaden their range of services by introducing more specialty physicians, including pediatrics, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, podiatry, cardiology, and neurology.
“Access to health care is an important issue in our communities, and community health centers are experiencing a critical shortage of providers,” said Yvette Radford, vice president, External and Community Affairs, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “We’re proud to support Encore Physicians and its work to help provide health care to people most in need.”
Making an impact
Paul Bayard, MD, chief medical officer of La Clínica, said the Encore Physicians program has helped to address the shortfall of clinicians, filling vacancies for multiple clinics that cannot recruit a full-time provider with part-time Encore physicians. La Clínica and other community health centers benefit from the seasoned physicians and the younger providers can consult with these physicians who have a breadth of knowledge.
“These are very experienced clinicians — they have a lot of accumulated clinical wisdom,” said Dr. Bayard. “They are making an impact even if it’s 1 or 2 days a week.”
Dr. Nguyen said her patients, who often work several jobs, drive long distances for their appointments on their only day off because they are so grateful to receive specialty care. The fact Dr. Nguyen speaks Vietnamese makes the visit even more worthwhile.
Arthur Bakal, MD, currently works 2 half days a week providing telehealth for LifeLong Medical Care’s Brookside San Pablo Health Center, where he uses a Spanish interpreter with most of his patients. He also mentors a medical student. Dr. Bakal retired from the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center as an internal medicine physician in 2018 and started working part time for LifeLong in 2019.
“I feel like I am doing something worthwhile for society through this program — that’s a good feeling,” said Dr. Bakal.
Dr. Nguyen once dreamt of providing medical expertise to impoverished communities far away, but today recognizes the need is “right here on our doorstep.”
“I would like to encourage retired physicians to help by sharing their wisdom. People need help right here.”
Learn more about participating in the Encore Physicians program.