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VA Sierra Pacific Network (VISN 21)


Volunteers in Medicine Return to the Front Line

Thérèse Duggan proudly stands in front of the quote made famous by Abraham Lincoln:

Thérèse Duggan proudly stands by the famous quote from Abraham Lincoln, located in our primary care area at the VASNHCS main campus.

By Shane Whitecloud
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Thérèse Duggan is an outgoing and charismatic person, and right now she’s giddy with excitement. Today she receives her official credentials from human resources that will allow her to join the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System (VASNHCS) volunteer force as a Physician Ambassador, a national program that seeks to enhance health care services to Veterans and their families while providing a streamlined process for volunteer civilian physicians and clinicians to give back to Veteran community. “If you told me that I couldn’t help people, it would be just like a death sentence,” she says. “Health care workers get into this line of work because we like to help people and we like the interaction. We know that our kindness, our love and our smile can make a real difference in someone’s life. Certainly, here at the VA.”

Nursing was not only passion, it was tradition

Hailing from a multi-generational family of nurses, Thérèse felt the calling to attend nursing school in 1974 in downtown Los Angeles in a big inner-city hospital called California Hospital. “It was a full immersion experience,” she shares. From there, she went to work at Martin Luther Hospital in Anaheim, where she started in oncology. After only one year, she was pulled into the intensive care unit and trained as an ICU nurse. Years later, she attended the University of California Irvine, an institution that worked hand in hand with VA facilities in Santa Anna, Long Beach, and Laguna Woods to assist Veterans with medical needs. “My husband served during the Cold War in the Navy. I’ve always felt connected to our Veterans,” she continues. Her career continued through all departments in medicine, from emergency room to positions of leadership.

Why come out of retirement?

Why would a retired registered nurse maintain her license seven years after retiring, only to volunteer? “I didn’t want to return to the busy and chaotic atmosphere of the emergency department, with the records keeping and long hours. I traded most of my life for that and in several occasions everything else came second, but I still want to help,” explains Thérèse

Volunteering as an ambassador

“We are grateful for Therese’s eagerness to assist our nursing staff with COVID-19 vaccinations. In addition to helping to ease staff burnout with the added assistance, we were able to reestablish our Physician Ambassador Volunteer Program,” says Mindy Gates, Community Affairs Service Specialist and your point of contact at VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System for the program.

The Physician Ambassador Program recruits and places fully licensed physicians and clinicians in a health care team at a VA medical facility to serve Veteran patients in various clinical areas. It’s a without compensation program – meaning no paycheck – but Thérèse says there are certainly benefits, “I wanted to do vaccinations and I liked the idea of only coming in for a few hours once or twice a week and if I want to volunteer for more time I can without the obligation of being on payroll. I think volunteering when you’re retired is a really good match because I can make my own schedule and still get the gift of helping people.”

If you would like more information or to enroll in the program as a volunteer at VASNHCS, please email Mindy Gates at and put “Physician Ambassador Program” in the subject line. If you are not in the northern Nevada area, but would still like more information, please visit and you’ll be prompted to enter the facility nearest you. 

If you are a retired, licensed medical practitioner please consider joining Ms. Duggan in our Physician Ambassador Program as a volunteer to our Veterans and be a hero to our nation’s heroes.


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