By necessity, pharmaceutical companies usually have quite a few medical professionals on their payrolls. Those doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory techs and others don't treat patients on a day-to-day basis -- instead, they're focused on developing new treatments that could help patients in the future.

In normal times, that's a reasonable trade-off.

But these aren't normal times, so Pfizer (PFE -0.54%), Merck (MRK -0.15%), and Eli Lilly (LLY -0.63%) are allowing the thousands of licensed medical professionals they employ to volunteer to go back to serving patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. And those who do so will keep receiving their base pay from the companies.

Doctor in a face mask listening to the heart of a patient in a face mask

Image source: Getty Images.

Merck said it's supporting employees worldwide who want to serve medical needs in their communities. In the U.S., the company is working with The Health Management Academy to send volunteers to the areas with the greatest need.

Pfizer has created a new Global COVID-19 Medical Service Program to help its employees transition into positions where they can treat patients.

Some of Eli Lilly's medical professionals are already running a free drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at its corporate headquarters in Indianapolis. That facility is focused on testing front-line healthcare workers and first responders. The samples taken there, as well as those taken at healthcare facilities elsewhere in the state, are being analyzed at Eli Lilly's labs. And it, too, is giving its medical professionals the option to volunteer to work elsewhere treating patients. All three will keep those volunteers' positions open so they can return to their roles after the crisis abates.

"Right now the purpose of our industry has never been more clear and vital -- to bring the full force of our scientific and medical expertise to attack this pandemic around the world," Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks said in a joint statement from all three companies.