The Laurie Green, MD Volunteer of the Year Award is given annually to a physician volunteer who represents excellence in every aspect of service to MAVEN Project. We are honored to present the 2023 Volunteer of the Year Award to John Farnen, MD.
Hooked on hematology – how Dr. John Farnen found his specialty and started sharing his expertise
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.”
Jamie Weinand, M.D., from El Rio Health, a large clinic in southern Arizona, has benefitted from Dr. Farnen generously sharing his expertise. A family physician, Dr. Weinand is faced with a wide variety of challenges, ranging from blood cancers to lymph node swelling.
“Having Dr. Farnen to consult on cases has been great,” Dr. Weinand shared. “His explanations are always very detailed and thorough, and he’s incomparably kind. I never feel like a nuisance, even when I call him to ask follow-up questions. He makes every consult an educational experience, guiding me through management of the problem and helping me to determine whether an outside referral is needed.”
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 give him an opportunity to share his medical expertise, but also to continue growing his medical knowledge.
In North Carolina, family physician and diabetologist Sampoorna Velineni, M.D., works primarily with uninsured patients at Greene County Health Care.
“Working with Dr. Farnen has helped me to save patients money by avoiding referrals, and I’ve become more confident treating hematology-related issues,” Dr. Velineni said. “He’s so quick to reply with answers to my questions. And his consults always include teaching moments that I’m using to treat other patients, like a protein ratio flowchart he shared that I’ve printed and reference regularly. He’s always willing to help and even helps me track down information if he doesn’t have it.”
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.
Here are some of the things frontline providers have said about Dr. Farnen’s consults:
- “Excellent response to my question! I very much appreciate the depth to which it was answered as that foundation supports my knowledge. Things often shift in medicine, and I didn’t want to be behind the curve! Thanks again!”
- “Detailed and thoughtful response indicating Dr. Farnen spent a great deal of time analyzing this consult and the additional attached materials. Appreciate his meticulous review of this case and his recommendations… Thank you again for helping us to avoid additional referral and cost for this complex patient.”
- “Great recommendations, which saved my patient a referral to hematology. This specialist really took a lot of time to review my patient’s records to provide thoughtful advice about further testing that was indicated. I look forward to following up with this provider after my patient returns for additional testing.”
- “Thank you, Dr. Farnen. I am so impressed by the quick and thorough responses. The MAVEN Project mentors and doctors are a wealth of knowledge I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to consult and learn from them.”
- “This is a fantastic service. Dr. Farnen was thorough, professional, and kind. He spared my patient’s family a long drive to see an in-person specialist an hour away. Thank you!”
- “Excellent consult on a patient who I had hoped wouldn’t need to be sent to a specialist. I learned a lot through submitting this consult and feel that I will better be able to care for patients with similar presentations in the future. Thank you!”
- “Thank you so much for this. The information you provided was very helpful and this was a great learning experience for me. I really appreciate all your help.”