COVID-19 Resource Center
COVID-19 Resource Center
Disclosures: Knight is senior vice president for education at AAFP.
April 08, 2020
3 min read

Retired physicians join fight against COVID-19 — should they?

Disclosures: Knight is senior vice president for education at AAFP.
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COVID-19 is stretching the capacity of health care systems across the United States. The American Academy of Family Physicians and AMA have provided guidance to retired physicians who want to rejoin the workforce and lend a hand.

“You have to understand the specifics of the individual situation,” Clif Knight, MD, senior vice president for education at AAFP, told Healio Primary Care. “When you look at the situation, on whole, it makes good sense for some physicians to be able to come back into the health care workforce to help with the volume of demands that we anticipate.”

Below are some key questions that senior physicians should ask themselves before jumping back into medical practice, according to Knight and the AMA.

How is my health?


Knight emphasized that individuals who are older and/or have underlying conditions are at greater risk for complications from COVID-19.

“You have to be realistic about your own health status,” he said. “If you have significant heart disease, hypertension, lung disease, then you are at greater risk.”

Knight said senior physicians who still want to work may be best suited for hospitals, which tend to be better equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) than other health care settings.

How long has it been since I retired?

Knight said that a decade might not seem like a significant amount of time across someone’s lifespan, but it can make a significant difference in the world of medicine.

“Technology has evolved to include electronic health records, use of telemedicine and those sorts of things,” he explained. “Ten years or so can change a lot depending on your specialty. Certainly, there have been changes in best practices and new medications.”

Is my medical license current?

PBS News Hour reported that in Illinois, licensing fees are being waived and license renewals are being expedited to meet the surge in demand for physicians.

Knight said retired physicians who want to rejoin the workforce and have allowed their medical license to expire should first contact the licensing board in their state of residence.

"That probably is incredibly variable from one state to the next,” he explained. “Check with your state licensing board to understand their requirements.”

What are my responsibilities if I return to work?


The AMA advises on its website that health care professionals who return to work should be clear on what they will do in their position. Relevant questions include:

  • What are the activities I’m being asked to do?
  • Do those activities align with my skill set?
  • What types of training/refreshers/mentoring will be provided?
  • Will I be provided with PPE?

What will my liability protections be if I return to work?

According to AMA’s website, the third federal economic COVID-19 stimulus package (H.R. 748) included liability protections for health care professionals who volunteer during the COVID-19 emergency response. AMA also states that health care professionals “authorized to prescribe and administer certain countermeasures to treat COVID-19 may be immune from liability under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act).”

Compiled from information gathered from AMA's website and interview with Clif Knight of AAFP.

AMA also indicated that health care professionals should check if the state that they wish to help out has taken steps to provide additional liability protection for health care professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic response (eg, an executive order from the governor). – by Janel Miller


AMA. AMA offers guidance to retired physicians during COVID-19. Accessed April 1, 2020.

AMA. Senior physician COVID-19 resource guide. Accessed April 2, 2020.

New York Post. In one day, 1,000 NYC doctors and nurses enlist to battle coronavirus. Accessed April 1, 2020.

PBS. COVID-19 draws retired doctors back to work. Accessed April 1, 2020.

Disclosures: Knight is senior vice president for education at AAFP.