Jack McConnell’s long career was over—or so he thought. The respected physician and scientist who had been part of the remarkable research teams that invented the TB Tine test, Tylenol and the MRI ha retired with wife Mary Ellen to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. One gray morning in 1992, he left his gated community of relative wealth on the island and drove through the back gate. There he found a community living in abject poverty. As a doctor, he wondered about their access to affordable medical care. So, he began talking to them and learned that they had no medical care. Eventually, he discovered that one out of three people on Hilton Head had no access to health care.

Seeing the island in a new light that rainy morning, McConnell conceived of a clinic staffed by retired physicians, nurses, dentists, and lay people that would provide high-quality medical care, free of charge, to the uninsured who lived in their midst. From his own experience and from talking to the new friends he was making among the island’s retirees, McConnell knew there were others like him who wanted to once again practice medicine.

Working tirelessly to make his vision a reality, McConnell opened the first Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) clinic in 1994. In the two years it took to open the clinic, McConnell raised the funds to build and equip the building, and he worked with the state legislature to pass a bill to create a special volunteer medical license that would allow retired physicians to practice medicine at free clinics without taking the licensure exam or paying the fee. Finally, he was instrumental in securing federal malpractice insurance for medical professionals who volunteer in America’s free clinics. Today, more than 700 people volunteer at the Hilton Head clinic. McConnell understood that what he saw on Hilton Head was true in every community across the country, and so he created the Volunteers in Medicine national office to guide the development of a national network of free clinics modeled on the original Hilton Head VIM clinic.

Today, the Volunteers in Medicine Alliance has 96 (and counting) clinics in 29 states. Each year, they deliver care to more than 100,000 uninsured Americans, providing more than 400,000 patient visits. More than 12,000 volunteers help make McConnell’s vision a reality. Each clinic promotes a “Culture of Caring,” based on McConnell’s belief that every patient and volunteer be treated with respect and dignity. McConnell’s creative, compassionate approach to providing greater health care access for those living in the margins of our society is delivering quality medical care where it never existed before.

Nonprofit Nutshell: The motto of VIM is “A National Solution to America’s Uninsured, One Community at a Time.” Many of the retired physicians, nurses, and dentists in the United States welcome the opportunity to enrich their retirement years by volunteering their skills on a part-time basis on behalf of the more than 41 million Americans who have no health insurance. Each year, more than 10,000 volunteers offer much-needed health care to 100,000 uninsured Americans. Are you a retired physician looking to practice “pure medicine” in a compassionate, respectful environment? Maybe VIM is for you!

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