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VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT – DR. JOHN FARNEN

Dr. John Farnen still has the booklet that inspired him to pursue medicine, but more specifically hematology. The Morphology of Human Blood Cells by Ann Bell, a monograph for hematology lab technicians by Abbott, was given to him while on a fifth-grade field trip to a hospital. The lab tech who passed along the booklet had no idea that one day Dr. Farnen would be helping other physicians all over the country to address hematology issues in the most vulnerable patients.

Only 10 years old at the time, he studied the atlas meticulously and memorized the different kinds of leukocytes and the pathways of leukocyte differentiation. It wasn’t typical reading for a young child, but it started him on the path to a 30-year career in hematology.

Today, Dr. Farnen is a retired Adult Clinical Hematologist. He’s also one of the busiest volunteers with MAVEN Project, a nonprofit that connects frontline clinic providers with a network of expert physician volunteers for ongoing medical consultations, education and 1:1 mentoring. He consults on cases when providers need hematology expertise and aren’t sure how to proceed with testing or treatment. Through the robust e-consult platform, Dr. Farnen provides much-needed guidance on diagnosis and next steps.

“I’m always amazed at the variety of cases that I consult on,” Dr. Farnen said. “Having practiced in Wisconsin, I didn’t see many cases of sickle cell disease, thalassemia, or G6PD deficiency; but these are common problems for which MAVEN providers request help. I’m glad to be able to assist providers in treating those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to connect with a specialist. Each case is challenging and rewarding in its own way.”

Retirement came earlier than anticipated when Dr. Farnen faced unforeseen health issues of his own. A spinal cord injury, and the resulting loss of mobility and chronic myelopathic pain, made it impossible for him to continue in full-time practice, though he was still eager to help others with his extensive medical expertise.

“Being a volunteer and helping physicians through MAVEN Project is a great blend of medicine and service, all on my own time,” Farnen added. “I can accept consult requests from anywhere, any time it’s convenient for me. It keeps me connected to the profession that I’m so passionate about.”

Volunteering through MAVEN Project has allowed him to stay engaged with hematology. He consults on cases all over the country that not only allow him to share his medical expertise, but to continue growing his own medical knowledge.

Always eager to learn, Dr. Farnen isn’t just consulting on hematology cases through MAVEN Project. He also logs on to the continuing medical education sessions to learn about everything from dermatology to neurology to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A father of four, Dr. Farnen hasn’t slowed down in retirement. He is the president of his local Rotary club, serves on his local Community Foundation Board, volunteers at his church, teaches chess at the neighborhood elementary school and is an avid gardener, volunteering with his local community garden to provide produce for the local food shelf.

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