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 from all over the Twin Cities, too. And, not having a medical assistant, she interviews patients herself to learn about their medications, medical history and health habits.

Germ-free and convenient

Compared to clinic visits, virtual appointments are germ-free and often more convenient for patients (some call from their vehicles), Borow says, adding that Allina is asking all its family physicians to conduct about 25% of their appointments virtually.

Via computer or FaceTime, Borow can look at skin lesions, listen to breathing, observe range-of-motion issues and assess people’s hydration, energy and mental health.

“If someone has abdominal pain, I have them jump up and down to make sure they don’t have signs of an acute abdomen,” the doctor explained. “If someone’s calling with a sick baby, I can see if the baby is responding to me. But this does not replace a physical exam.”

When necessary, Borow will recommend in-person appointments and specialists. Now the No. 1 concern of her patients is learning about COVID-19 symptoms and getting tested.

Mariya Zlatkova has been a patient of Borow’s for her entire life. The doctor not only delivered Zlatkova but also the 24-year-old’s two children — and she’s expecting again in February. For the patient, virtual appointments have been an adjustment.

“Dr. Borow is really hands on,” said Zlatkova, of Cottage Grove. “She knows my history. She doesn’t rush things. She takes the time to know what’s happening and figure out a solution.”

The virtual visits with Borow typically last half as long as in-person ones did. But Zlatkova doesn’t want a new doctor even one she can see in-person.

“Dr. Borow is like family…,” she said. “She knows me so well; you can give her five simple words in a message and she knows what to do.”

That bond works both ways.

“A lot of people I’ve been taking care of [for years], they ask how I’m doing because I’m not in the clinic,” Borow said. “They know I had my hip replacements. It’s so sweet that they’re so concerned about me. I’m overwhelmed by people’s kindness.”

She keeps an eye toward returning to the delivery room. “I’m hoping for a vaccine,” said Borow.

“I don’t know if I’ll go back to [delivering babies] or not. I certainly hope so.”