Issue 2 • 2022
© 2022 The Royal Australasian College of Physicians

It’s not over when it’s over: Volunteering during retirement

It is no secret that doctors lead fast-paced lives. Between rushing from patient to patient to coffee-fuelled 12-hour shifts, and constantly being on call, there is always something to do. After a long, rewarding career, about 150 RACP Fellows retire each year, so they can enjoy a slower-paced life. But over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic saw retired doctors called back to assist the healthcare system.
Associate Professor Adrian Gillin
Emeritus Professor Ian Webster AO
We spoke with Associate Professor Adrian Gillin FRACP and Emeritus Professor Ian Webster AO to find out how COVID-19 has impacted their retirement plans and how they are choosing to spend their time as retired physicians.
Associate Professor Adrian Gillin worked as a long-term Staff Specialist physician in renal medicine at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Before retiring, he had worked there for almost 40 years after becoming a registrar and doing a stint as Head of the Division of Medicine.
Reflecting on his transition into retirement, Associate Professor Gillin says it did not go as planned, but that he acted on what he felt was a civic duty considering the unprecedented times we faced.
“Once I made the decision to leave, it was a big relief to hand over my long-term patients to my skilled colleagues. I was confident that their ongoing care needs would be met. However, my retirement was complicated by occurring in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I received general requests to assist the hospital workforce, which I had just left.”
Due to a lifelong commitment to helping the community he had served for the past four decades, Associate Professor Gillin chose to return to work.
“I wanted to help, so volunteered part-time for the Royal Prince Alfred Virtual Hospital. Telehealth appointments enabled patients to remain at home, and out of an already over-crowded hospital. I helped people who had COVID-19. At first, there were hundreds, then it quickly grew to thousands.”
“It was busy, difficult and a long way out of my comfort zone, as I previously treated inpatients in hospital with a team of nurses and junior medical officers. Most patients were happy to be helped virtually, but some felt like they were in gaol, trapped at home.”
Despite retirement, Associate Professor Gillin was able to assist the NSW Health system respond to the rapidly increasing need to monitor patients at risk of COVID-19.
“I then helped by administering vaccinations in a mobile medical van, part of The Rev. Bill Crews Foundation (also known as The Exodus Foundation) medical services, which received a small NSW Government grant to help vaccinate needy populations around Sydney. I pulled back from these roles as other medical options re-opened. “I also found that I lost a lot of interest in my previous job as a nephrologist. I didn’t have the same day-to-day call on those skills. My current part-time role is in primary care, and I needed new skills. I still have access to journals via NSW CIAP and through my university clinical appointment. The RACP online learning platform also helped provide me with education in drug health matters, which was helpful.”
Reflecting on some of his career highlights, Associate Professor Gillin said:
“I was the medical surveyor for the Australian Council for Healthcare Standards (ACHS), which included surveying in Aotearoa New Zealand and the republic of Ireland. I found that work really rewarding, as I helped give hospitals recommendations to make improvements.”
“Although it feels like a lifetime ago, I also enjoyed the time I spent at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, where I did my post-doctoral studies. It was on an overseas travelling Scholarship from the Heart Foundation of Australia. I lived in Atalanta for years with my wife, as well as my four children, who were aged under four.”
To find out more about life after retirement, Emeritus Professor Ian Webster, who was coincidentally Associate Professor Gillin’s professor back in the day, shared his experience. Professor Webster is a physician and Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine. He was previously Foundation Professor and Head of the School of Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales.
Emeritus Professor Ian Webster has had a fascinating career, including serving as Chair of the Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council and Chair of the Advisory Committee of the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity.
“I was the Foundation Chair of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation (AERF) in 2001, which is now known as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE). I was also a National Mental Health Commissioner from 2012 to 2014.”
“It is hard to know when full-time work ends and retirement starts. I established working relationships with non-government organisations and government bodies during my formal employment and these continued into retirement. Freed of organisational responsibilities, there were increased opportunities to contribute and pursue my interests in art and related activities.”
Despite retiring, Emeritus Professor Webster continues his work helping people affected by addiction. He keeps busy by working with multiple organisations.
“I am involved with the alcohol and drug problems of young people through the Ted Noffs Foundation and the health harms of alcohol through The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. And at the University of New South Wales, I chair the Steering Committee for the Tyree Institute of Health Engineering.”
“The focus of my working life has been clinical practice and I continued this at The Matthew Talbot Hostel for the homeless in Woolloomooloo and then through The Rev. Bill Crews Foundation for a day each week over a period of more than 40 years. My involvement in addiction medicine continued for 10 years in a voluntary capacity as an honorary Visiting Medical Officer at Liverpool Hospital. And in a similar role I volunteered at the Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital and the Nowra Drug and Alcohol Centre for 13 years. I grew up in country Victoria, had worked in Whyalla in South Australia and wanted to contribute to rural health services.”
When asked what advice he’d give to others thinking of volunteering their time and services, Emeritus Professor Webster replied, “By the time of retirement, doctors and other health workers have had unrivalled opportunities to witness troubled and good times in the lives of others. Younger doctors and health workers need support, as they too embark on a life-time of helping to lift the impact of disease and disabilities on individuals and communities. It is an affirming and rewarding experience to be able to support others at the commencement of their careers.”
Outside of his very important volunteer work, Emeritus Professor Webster finds joy in creative hobbies.
“Retirement has given me the ability to spend more time printmaking, painting, playing bowls and preparing meals.”