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Doctors and nurses put retirement on hold to fight coronavirus: "It's a calling on my heart"

Medical staff pause retirement over pandemic
Doctors, nurses being called out of retirement to fight coronavirus 04:30

Doctors and nurses are being called out of retirement to help fight coronavirus as the number of patients grows in the United States. "It's truly an all-hands-on-deck approach" because of the "finite number" of health care workers, CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula said. 

There's "really a dwindling supply of health care providers, either because they are quarantined, they're at home taking care of their kids, or many are getting sick," Narula said on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday.

Narula pointed to the number of medical professionals who reportedly got infected with coronavirus abroad. "Over 3,000 health care professionals infected in China. Over 4,000 in Italy. Over 5,000 in Spain," she said. 

"We talk a lot about the supply of masks and ventilators, but those are things that when we decide to, we can ramp up production relatively quickly. It's not so the case with our health care providers. It takes years and years to train doctors and nurses and other health care professionals," Narula said. 

Because of that, tens of thousands of retired and former doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners have volunteered to go back to work. One of them is Michele Pedicone, who left her practice as a respiratory therapist in Seattle two years ago to teach at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.

"It's a calling on my heart," Pedicone told Narula. "I need to help because I believe the systems are going to be overwhelmed."

Pedicone, a single mom, said she discussed going back to work with her son. "He has seen me out in the hospitals most of his life, taking care of other people," she said. "He said, 'I could do it as long as I didn't get sick,' which sounds like a really good deal."

Pedicone admitted she was worried about her safety, but said she thinks that's normal. 

"I think a little apprehension, maybe a little fear and anxiety … can be healthy in this situation," she said. 

She is worried about bringing the virus home to her son but said she recognizes that she could also bring it home by going to the grocery store.

Pedicone's father called her "a hero" for going back to help, she said. Asked how she felt hearing that, she said, "I cried for an hour. And then I moved on."

"Seeing how desperate the patients are and how desperate my colleagues are, there's no way I could just sit home and read their stories, not do something about it," Pedicone said.

Narula said there is concern about some doctors and nurses going back to work because of their ages. 

"We know that about 40% of doctors and nurses are over the age of 55. As we've discussed, the older you are, the more underlying conditions you have, the more at risk you are for having a severe consequence or case of COVID," she said on "CBS This Morning." "That being said, we're trying to figure out where to put these retirees that might be safer. Some people are discussing using them in telehealth capacities now that those rules have changed. They can provide care across state lines. Or in areas where they wouldn't be directly facing patients or dealing with patients."

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