By Howard B. Kleckner, MD, Medical Director, thesecondopinion
I first started volunteering in medicine while I was on summer vacation from high school. My mother, faced with the possible of a teenage son hanging around the house for the summer, found a summer job for me volunteering at a local hospital. Following that, my career was set.
Fast forward 50 years and I, like many other physicians in their 60s, was facing retirement. For most of us, practicing medicine had been a way of life. Few of us had developed other interests and hobbies. Medicine both consumed and fulfilled us and despite all the hassles it remains the most rewarding of all careers. So much of our identity had been connected with our profession and we were now facing giving it up.
I felt 35 years practicing Oncology had given me knowledge and skills which I could continue to share in some way. It was the only thing I knew how to do well. Fortunately my retirement plan provided me with sufficient financial security that I and my family would not have to worry. I knew I would miss the collegial interaction, the intellectual stimulation, and the powerful relationships one develops with patients and their families. At the beginning of training medicine is all about obtaining knowledge, as we practice we discover it is all about people and relationships. I knew I would miss these. I began to ask and look around for things I could do which would utilize my skills and experience.
I remembered having sent cancer patients who could not afford a second opinion or sought an independent eye from outside of our health plan network to thesecondopinion in San Francisco. I inquired and was invited to attend a session and then asked to join as a volunteer medical oncologist.
Thesecondopinion is a 501©3 nonprofit which provides free second opinions to people with cancer in the State of California regardless of income. It has been existence over 30 years in different forms. More than 60 volunteer physician cancer specialists meet 3 times a month and reviews 3 cases each on the Tumor Panel. All medical records, imaging studies, and pathology slides are obtained and reviewed by panelists in advance of the meeting. On the day of the Tumor Panel, the 4 or 5 physicians consisting of a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, radiologist, pathologist and surgical specialist discuss the cases over lunch at our offices at 1200 Gough in San Francisco. The patients and their families are then invited in one by one to spend 30 to 40 minutes with the Panel asking questions about the diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis. It takes the form of a Tumor Board, but the questions are patient and not doctor driven. The session is recorded on CD and given to the patient and a letter is sent summarizing our discussion to the attending physicians somewhat like a formal consultation. Patients and families are incredibly grateful and leave with more comfort and clarity about their disease.
Two years ago I was asked to become Medical Director, a job with more responsibility but still part time and providing me with sufficient time and flexibility to pursue other interests. I still have time for my grandchildren, community engagements, reading, and trips. As thesecondopinion is a nonprofit, I am also engaged with fundraising but it is a joy to tell our story to foundations and donors. The community has been extremely generous and supportive. I feel I can give back now using my years of experience in a different role and continue to make a difference in people’s lives.
Thesecondopinion is a 501©3 nonprofit organization which provides second opinions for California cancer patients about diagnosis and treatment at no cost. The organization have been in existence for over 30 years and are located at Geary Boulevard and Gough Street in San Francisco. Click here for more information or view a short CBS5 video clip about the organization.