Volunteers to Expand Rheumatology Access
The Volunteers to Expand Rheumatology Access (VERA) initiative aims to improve access to care for uninsured and under-insured patients with rheumatic disease in the U.S. If you are interested in volunteering to provide care to underserved populations in your community, browse the resources below to see volunteer opportunities, frequently asked questions, volunteer testimonials, and opportunities to connect with other volunteers.
The volunteer opportunities are being updated. Please check back soon.
Wondering what it is like to volunteer?
Read insights, experiences, and takeaways from rheumatology providers who currently volunteer to provide patient care in their community.
What have you gained through volunteering?
“Volunteering allows me to provide consultative service to patients who otherwise would not have access to Rheumatology care. I have the opportunity to teach medical trainees about our subspecialty and hope to inspire the trainees to become rheumatologists of the future. I have also had the opportunity to educate my primary care colleagues—and in this way improve access to Rheumatology care.”
— Nina D. Schwartz, MD
“Volunteering with the Indian Health Services (IHS) learning about their cultures and beliefs, and the intersection between traditional medicine practices and my practice in Boston, and partnering with the outstanding and dedicated IHS providers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. I feel that I can truly make a difference in the lives of the patients by helping to diagnose and treat diseases early before the debilitating manifestations occur.”
— Candace E. Feldman, MD, MPH, SCD
How have you helped patients through volunteering?
"I was able to help a physician who was uncertain about how to follow his new patient with psoriatic arthritis on a biologic. Without my counsel the patient would have to be off the biologic agent until he could get an appointment in 4-6 months at a nearby university center."
— G.C. Bernhard, MD, FACP, MACR
How does volunteering benefit clinics?
"Since we opened in 2011, our clinic has not been able to treat or manage any rheumatological conditions due to a lack of expertise. We have seen everything from rheumatoid arthritis to fibromyalgia to Beçhets disease. As you can imagine, these diagnoses are very expensive to treat for an uninsured person. The American College of Rheumatology’s VERA Initiative will make an incredible difference in patients' lives! Thank you very much for the compassion.”
— Katie Cameron, Special Programs Coordinator, Family Community Clinic in Louisville, KY
How do you volunteer?
“I found that Community Health Care, in Tacoma Washington, a federally sponsored network of public clinics, was the perfect match for medical professionals who wished to donate their time and expertise. I started a weekly rheumatology clinic and saw patients along with residents from the clinic's family practice program. This was beneficial to the clinic's patients, who previously had very little access to rheumatologists in the community, and the family practice residency gained a rotation through which bedside teaching of rheumatology's differential diagnoses as well as therapeutic injection skills could be demonstrated.”
— Robert Ettlinger, MD
“I have been fortunate to be able to use my skills in a volunteer capacity outside of my suburban/urban practice, both through remotely assessing patients without access or ability to pay for rheumatologic care, and by teaching or mentoring their caregivers through a remote electronic platform (The MAVEN Project*).”
— Katherine S. Upchurch, MD
*Learn more about Dr. Upchurch’s involvement with the MAVEN Project (Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network) by watching a PBS News Hour video clip from 2018."
How often do you volunteer?
“As a rheumatology attending, I spend about one week a year in Gallup, NM, and for my last visit, in Shiprock as well, and I communicate regularly throughout the year with providers at both locations to help manage challenging cases and to receive updates on the patients I see when I am there. When I go, I give lectures to the frontline providers and work in a “precepting” role so that the primary provider who is caring for the patient participates actively in the history, examination, assessment, planning and follow-up.”
— Candace E. Feldman, MD, MPH, SCD
At what point in your career have you volunteered?
“I have recently realized the ultimate reward for my volunteer work: I have been able to continue to be immersed in the field of rheumatology even after official retirement
“As a rheumatology fellow, I began to volunteer in the telemedicine program the Brigham and Women’s Hospital set up with 4 Indian Health Services (IHS) sites helping to discuss and manage rheumatologic cases and giving presentations on topics of particular relevance to the outstanding IHS providers.”
— Candace E. Feldman, MD, MPH, SCD
How have you maintained licensure and medical malpractice insurance while volunteering?
“The Washington State VRP, (Volunteer and Retired Providers), Program has been very supportive, as it provides members with free medical licensure as well as free medical malpractice coverage so there is no out-of-pocket cost to me.”
— Robert Ettlinger, MD
Frequently Asked Questions About Volunteering
Do you have questions about volunteering to provide patient care or other types of opportunities? See frequently asked questions from people considering patient care volunteering.
Yes, in many settings, trainees (with appropriate supervision), nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers, physical therapists, and others can provide care. Even if the site you are interested in does not currently have non-physician volunteers, ask about this option - you could be the first.
Yes, as long as your professional license is current. See more about professional licenses below.
There are two excellent organizations that help prospective volunteers find free care clinics in specific regions.
National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics lists all available free care clinics that are known to them (including the Volunteers in Medicine America Clinics listed below). Part of their mission is to provide support to free care clinics and they make a strong effort to keep their listings up to date. Opportunities are searchable by zip code, city, or state.
Volunteers in Medicine America is a national network of free health care clinics that provide care for the uninsured and medically underserved. They are community-based and differ greatly in the resources they provide. Clinics can be found using an interactive map and are also listed by state.
As long as you have a professional license in a particular state in the U.S. you are eligible to volunteer in that state. In some states it is possible to get a special volunteer medical license. Many clinics have a credentialing office that will inform you of the specific licensing needs in your state. See Licensing Provisions and Liability Laws for Senior and Volunteer Physicians.
This requirement varies. A clinic may cover its providers under its malpractice insurance or federal programs (under the Federal Tort Claims Act) for volunteer providers. It is a good idea to ask about this when considering medical volunteering. See Licensing Provisions and Liability Laws for Senior and Volunteer Physicians for more information on liability for medical volunteers.
Many clinics welcome volunteers who are available for only several months throughout the year.
The time commitment for volunteering is highly variable. Some providers volunteer every week for at least a half-day. Some can only volunteer one or two days a month. Some clinics ask that you commit to three-four hours once a week or once every other week. Most clinics can accommodate individual requests.
Many clinics have a volunteer coordinator listed on their website. Most clinics have a required online application.
Many clinics allow you to select the times and days that work best for you. In general, clinics work closely with their volunteers to accommodate changes in availability whenever possible.
Many clinics will ask volunteers to commit to at least several months. Clinics are often all volunteer based which makes it very hard for them to have a high turnover rate with short-term volunteers.
Eligibility criteria vary by clinic. Representative eligibility criteria include how much a person earns, lack of health insurance or being under-insured, being ineligible for state or marketplace insurance, or lacking veteran's benefits. Some clinics rely on the “honor system” and simply provide care to those who request it. Patients in some clinics must be referred by a primary care provider but this requirement varies as well.
Volunteers in Medicine America’s free medical clinics are community-operated, community-owned, and community-financed. The clinics typically depend on strong partnerships with local agencies, a volunteer staff including medical professionals and lay volunteers, and the financial support of the community. Some clinics have a small paid staff to provide the core infrastructure to the clinic operations. While most clinics do not charge a fee, some request a small donation at the time of each visit. Other free care clinics are run by religious or academic institutions. For additional information, see National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics.
Yes, in some settings, telehealth is an option. The MAVEN Project (Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network) connects volunteer specialist physicians with primary care providers. These volunteers provide virtual consultations, teaching and mentorship to community health clinics.
Yes, in some settings education of patients or clinicians is an option. For example, you may be able to volunteer by creating patient information sheets or leading teaching sessions for primary care providers. If you are more interested in teaching or case discussion rather than direct patient care, you can ask about these options.
The volunteer opportunities presented here are provided by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) as an informational resource for rheumatology health professionals. The listing is not meant to be exhaustive and ACR does not benefit financially from linking to these organizations or have a relationship with them. The ACR is not responsible for the information contained on these websites. It is the responsibility of the individual to contact the organization of interest to learn more about potential volunteer opportunities. Please view the ACR's policies regarding privacy, internal and external linking, copyright, and disclaimers.