By Erin Allday San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Laurie Green's nonprofit "Maven" allows doctors to hang on to their professional identities a while longer while helping patients who could benefit from their decades of experience.
San Francisco Chronicle
When Laurie Green was applying to medical school, one of the professors overseeing her application asked her, utterly serious: Why should you take this spot from a qualified male student?
Green, 22 and hungry and perfectly qualified, didn't take offense. It was the early 1970s, and women were only just beginning to venture into medicine. Instead, she took the question as a challenge, and has been, in a way, earning that spot in the 40-plus years since.
It was that drive that compelled her to start a nonprofit organization focused on reducing health disparities. The Maven Project of San Francisco connects volunteer physicians, most of them retired or nearly so, with health clinics that serve patients who may not have access to expert specialty care. Green describes it as "Match.com meets the Peace Corps."
"We want to be the organization that doctors go to when they're retired or retiring, to be able to continue to make a contribution," Green said. "We want to marshal this army of retired doctors."
For her innovation, Green was nominated for a 2018 Visionary of the Year award, sponsored by The Chronicle. The award comes with a $25,000 grant, which the winner may use to fund his or her work or apply to a chosen cause.
Green, a full-time obstetrician and gynecologist who practices out of California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, founded Maven in 2014, at a time when widespread doctor shortages, especially in certain specialties and in impoverished communities, were colliding with a large market of patients newly insured under the Affordable Care Act.
Now, with the act commonly known as Obamacare under attack and the number of uninsured people beginning to rise, the demand for expert care in at-need communities is even more acute, Green said. Her project is designed to bridge some of that gap.
At the core of the Maven Project is telemedicine technology, which enables doctors to consult face to face with physicians in faraway places. It's not practical for the Maven volunteers to work directly with patients -- they'd have to be licensed in every state where they consulted, even by video -- but they can assist and mentor doctors treating those patients.
While Maven's focus is to improve patient access to care, that wasn't Green's initial motivation for creating the project. Rather, her goal was to provide retiring doctors an opportunity to stay active and useful even if they no longer wanted a full-time career in medicine. Maven stands for Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network.
So much of a doctor's identity is wrapped up in his or her career. Green, who has delivered thousands of babies and at 68 isn't planning to retire anytime soon, knew that firsthand.
Her project, she decided, would let doctors hang on to their identity a while longer, and at the same time help patients who could benefit from their decades of experience.
"When I heard about the Maven Project, the lightbulb went off for me," said Lisa Levine, the organization's CEO. "You're connecting a depth of knowledge with places that don't have access to it otherwise. For the physicians, this is an opportunity to keep giving back."
Levine described Green as a "relationship builder." The first time they spoke -- via video conference, when Levine was applying to work with Maven -- they spent hours talking and exchanging ideas.
"When I talk with her, it's hard to get off the phone," Levine said with a laugh. "There's just so much richness in speaking with her. She's the kind of person who inspires you to want to build and do more."
Green was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her mother was one of her earliest inspirations: She'd lost sight in one eye due to congenital rubella, but she was a talented painter and never complained about her poor vision. Green was 16 before she even knew her mother had a false eye.
That irrepressible attitude carried Green toward a path in medicine in an era when women were only just starting to make headway. Her class of about 160 students at Harvard Medical School in 1972 included just 29 women.
After completing her residency at UCSF, Green settled in the Bay Area. She started a practice, Pacific Women's Obstetrics and Gynecology, with a colleague in Laurel Heights. Green still delivers several hundred babies a year -- last year was a bit slow, she noted, with around 400 births.
She raised two children of her own and never eased up. Instead, she recalled with a laugh, she learned to eat lunch, pump breast milk and consult with patients over the phone all at once.
At some point she started wearing her now-trademark fanny pack, which replaced a purse because she can run faster with it if called to an emergency.
Outside her practice, Green stayed busy. In the 1990s, she was an on-air medical reporter for KTVU, and over the years she's volunteered with several physician societies. She embraces the "workaholic" label and likes to joke that in her free time she delivers babies.
In 2013, she was elected president of the Harvard Medical School Alumni Foundation, and that's when the Maven flame was lit. As she met with former students in her new role, she was struck by how many were approaching retirement and not sure what was coming next.
The most obvious volunteer opportunities for doctors are in organizations that serve communities in developing countries, or in areas where disaster has struck. But not every physician is willing or able to help under those circumstances. And Green knew expert care was desperately needed in the United States.
Deborah Brigell, a Boston-area endocrinologist, plans to scale back her work to just one day a week this spring. Anticipating all that extra time, she looked for volunteer opportunities. "But I was having a hard time finding what I could do that would specifically use my skills," she said.
Someone told Brigell about Maven, and she signed up. She's since done several consultations on a laptop. "Being a doctor has been a huge part of my identity," Brigell said. "This has helped me do some meaningful work with my free time."
The Maven Project now has more than 200 doctors, who have conducted 1,200 consultations. Volunteers must work at least four hours a month. They schedule appointments with doctors at clinics that work with Maven or are simply "on call" during specific hours.
A primary care physician might ask one of the organization's doctors for advice on a patient -- maybe someone with multiple complex diseases for whom drug interactions are a concern. There are also broader, lecture-type meetings, when volunteers discuss cases and trends in their area of expertise.
Green and her team are working to establish routines they can scale to communities across the country. Maven is in California, Massachusetts, Florida, New York and Washington, and in talks to work with clinics in Louisiana, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Back in medical school, Green said, she and her female peers often felt pressure to prove themselves among their male colleagues. The Maven Project -- on top of the thousands of babies she's delivered, the children she's raised, and countless other investments in her community -- feels like another step in the right direction, she said.
"We all felt that we wanted to do something for the world. That would yield happiness," Green said. "So this work, it's selfish in a weird backdoor way."