Disaster preparedness: Are retired physicians willing to help?


  • Elena M. Shephard, MD, MPH
  • Eileen J. Klein, MD, MPH
  • Kathryn G. Koelemay, MD, MPH
  • Jack Thompson, MSW




emergency preparedness, surge capacity, personnel


Objective: To identify the proportion of retired physicians belonging to a state-wide professional association who would be willing to volunteer in the event of a disaster.
Methods: A paper-based, self-administered questionnaire sent to all physicians listed as retired members of the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA). The main questions included whether subjects would be willing to volunteer during a disaster, which tasks they would be most willing to perform, and whether they would be willing to participate in disaster preparedness training.
Results: A total of 2,443 surveys were mailed, 2,274 arrived at their destination (169 were undeliverable), and 1,447 were returned (response rate 64 percent). Fifty-four percent of respondents reported they would be willing to perform healthcare tasks during a disaster and 24 percent of respondents said they would possibly be willing to help. Tasks retired physicians were most willing to assist with included minor wound care (85 percent), vaccine administration (74 percent), and starting intravenous lines (71 percent). Fewer respondents indicated willingness to assist with community education (60 percent) or staffing ambulatory clinics (48 percent). Seventy-eight percent indicated they would attend disaster preparedness training.
Conclusions: Healthcare facilities must be prepared to cope with staffing shortages in the event of a disaster and volunteers such as retired physicians could fill crucial roles in a medical response plan. The majority of retired physicians surveyed would be willing to participate. They would be most willing to perform well-defined tasks directly related to patient care. Most would be willing to participate in preparatory training.

Author Biographies

Elena M. Shephard, MD, MPH

Department of Pediatrics, Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, Washington.

Eileen J. Klein, MD, MPH

Department of Pediatrics, Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, Washington.

Kathryn G. Koelemay, MD, MPH

Public Health-Seattle, King County, Communicable Disease, Epidemiology, and Immunizations, Seattle, Washington.

Jack Thompson, MSW

Department of Health Services, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Seattle, Washington.


Taylor CW: Surge capacity: Preparing your healthcare system. Emerg Med Serv. 2003; 32: 91-92.

Hick JL, Hanfling D, Burstein JL, et al.: Health care facility and community strategies for patient care surge capacity. Ann Emerg Med. 2004; 44: 253-261.

Taylor JL, Roup BJ, Blythe D, et al.: Pandemic influenza preparedness in Maryland: Improving readiness through a tabletop exercise. Biosecur Bioterror. 2005; 3: 61-69.

Kater V, Braverman N, Chuwers P:Would provision of childcare for nurses with young children ensure response to a call-up during a wartime disaster? An Israeli hospital nursing survey. Public Health Rev. 1992; 20: 313-316.

Hoyt KS, Gerhart AE: The San Diego county wildfires: Perspectives of healthcare providers [corrected]. Disaster Manag Response. 2004; 2: 46-52.

Qureshi K, Gershon RR, Sherman MF, et al.: Health care workers’ ability and willingness to report to duty during catastrophic disasters. J Urban Health. 2005; 82: 378-388.

Tieman J: New views, new vows. ACHE conference realigns agenda: Disaster preparedness, staffing top list. Mod Healthc. 2002; 32: 38.

Anonymous: Surge capacity for mass-casualty disasters. Healthc Hazard Manage Monit. 2004; 18: 1-6.

Bentley JD: Hospital preparedness for bioterrorism. Public Health Rep. 2001; 116(Suppl 2): 36-39.

Schoch-Spana M: “Hospital’s full-up”: The 1918 influenza pandemic. Public Health Rep. 2001; 116(Suppl 2): 32-33.

Hsu CE, Mas FS, Jacobson HE, et al.: Public health preparedness of health providers: Meeting the needs of diverse, rural communities. J Natl Med Assoc. 2006; 98: 1784-1791.

Fothergill A, Palumbo MV, Rambur B, et al.: The volunteer potential of inactive nurses for disaster preparedness. Public Health Nurs. 2005; 22: 414-421.

Campos-Outcalt D: Disaster medical response: Maximizing your effectiveness. J Fam Pract. 2006; 55: 113-115.

Pierce JR Jr, Pittard AE,West TA, et al.: Medical response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Local public health preparedness in action. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2007; 13: 441-446.

Lanzilotti SS, GalanisD, Leoni N, et al.: A study of availability of doctors and nurses to staff non-hospital, field medical facilities for mass casualty incidents resulting from the use of weapons of mass destruction and the level of knowledge and skills of these medical professionals as related to the treatment of victims of such incidents. Hawaii Med J. 2002; 61: 162-173.

Representatives Schual-Berke and Cody: Washington state house bill 1850—Retired volunteer medical workers. 2006; HB 1850:1-4. Available at https://www.riskinstitute.org/peri/images/ file/WashingtonHandoutHB1850.pdf. Accessed October 28, 2009.

Becker SM, Middleton SA: Improving hospital preparedness for radiological terrorism: Perspectives from emergency department physicians and nurses. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2008; 2: 174-184.

Groves RM, Fowler FJ, Couper MP, et al.: Survey Methodology. Chapter 5. New Jersey:Wiley, 2004.



How to Cite

Shephard, MD, MPH, E. M., E. J. Klein, MD, MPH, K. G. Koelemay, MD, MPH, and J. Thompson, MSW. “Disaster Preparedness: Are Retired Physicians Willing to Help?”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 4, no. 5, Sept. 2009, pp. 279-86, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2009.0040.

Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.