After 41 years of practice, Mendota Heights doctor finds renewed purpose in virtual medicine

Dr. Carolyn Borow has delivered more than 3,500 babies in her 41 years as a family doctor. But she hasn’t delivered one since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Instead Borow, like many medical professionals, has gone virtual, doing all those appointments about pregnancy complications, sore throats and COVID fears via computer and FaceTime. In fact, the only time she’s been in a hospital recently was when she herself had surgery.

“I am definitely going through baby withdrawal,” said Borow, who works out of Allina Health in West St. Paul and Eagan. “I’d never planned that at some point I’m not going to be doing this. Only a pandemic would keep me from it.”

At a time when a growing number of veteran doctors are suddenly considering retirement, Borow is finding renewed purpose in her work.

A 2020 survey of 2,300 U.S. physicians by the nonprofit Physicians Foundation reported that 37% of doctors said they would like to retire within a year. Many expressed fear for their personal health, including 28% who had “serious concerns” about catching COVID-19.

Borow, though, sees value in her shifting work experience.

“I thank everybody who is making these appointments,” Borow said. “Because it has allowed me to still feel meaningful. Because I had no intention ever of not continuing to serve people.”

Initially, to cut down on coronavirus exposure, Allina limited the number of its doctors going in and out of United Hospital in St. Paul, where Borow has worked. So, Allina hired doctors to serve full time in the hospital.

Secondly, because of her age and medical risks during the COVID crisis, Borow decided to curtail her in-person contact with patients. She went virtual on the fly.

“It was all new to me,” she said of distance doctoring. “But in my motivation to serve people, I just learned it quickly.”

Borow is as busy as ever. An empty nester with a retired husband, she dons her scrubs every morning — in the clinic, she used to wear streets clothes and a lab coat — and sits at an Allina-issued computer in her son’s old bedroom in their Mendota Heights home. Her two cats sometimes scratch at the door. But Borow is diligent and determined, officially working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (actually, two nights until 6) and on-call every other weekend. Of course, that doesn’t include the two or three hours every night of paperwork and the pre-shift prep for her appointments.

She also spends a half-day per week in the clinic signing forms, wearing a mask and shield over her glasses.

With a different virtual patient scheduled every 20 minutes, the doctor is much more punctual than in her days at the clinic, where an assistant could warn an impatient patient that the physician is running late.

“I have openings every day, people can get right in, which was never the case before,” Borow said. “Although before, we could work someone in with double booking.”

She’s now able to see patients

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