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Friday Apr 04, 2014

Those Who Need Guidance and Those Who Guide

Editor's note: More than 85 percent of new physicians are employed, compared to 63 percent of all active AAFP members. This is the second post in an occasional series of blogs that will look at the different roles family physicians can play.

If anyone had told me I would be faculty five years ago, I would not have believed it. I actually may have thought he or she was a little bit weird because I had no intentions of working in a residency program. My supposedly well-thought-out, short-term plan ended at getting a job at a clinic in a community where I could make a difference. Well, so much for the best-laid plans. 

Here I am (at right) talking to intern Latoya Lee, M.D., during clinic hours. Working as an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of South Carolina has allowed me to teach and practice full scope family medicine.

After residency, my husband and I were living in Honduras on a mission trip when a brigade from the University of South Carolina (USC) came to work in the rural clinics. Jeff Hall, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine, was one of the faculty on that trip who recruited me.

I interviewed at USC -- and with other, nonacademic practices -- and realized that my desires to continue practicing obstetrical care and to teach and interact with medical students and residents were virtually impossible in a nonacademic setting. I had always enjoyed teaching, but I never thought it would pay my salary.

I’ve been at USC for a little more than a year, and I am really enjoying myself. As a faculty member I am able to continue practicing full scope family medicine and remain on the cutting edge of new therapies, interventions and technology. This is one of the reasons I chose academic medicine instead of private practice.

The residents keep me on my toes and up-to-date with their questions and presentations about what they are learning. They help me remain evidence-based and energetic. They remind me of the youthful curiosity and intrigue that one faces when dealing with a difficult patient or engaging a community. The medical students are comparable, but they ask the real tough questions -- questions that remind me of pathophysiology and those that prove gross anatomy labs were really important.

I work full-time in a salaried position. My time is split between clinical and teaching responsibilities, with about 20 percent each going to direct patient care, supervision of residents and research. I also use research time to become a better teacher by working on lectures and other administrative duties, which includes an obesity project I lead. The remaining time I get to practice one of my first loves -- delivering babies.

Aside from the residents and students, being faculty has enriched my life through the mentorship and wisdom I've received from more experienced faculty. As I'm still fresh out of residency, it's comforting to know that I can ask a physician with 20 years of experience how he or she would manage a problem. It’s also comforting being able to ask them questions like "Is it OK if I'm still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up?"

Being faculty is much more rewarding than I ever expected.Although I may not have the answer to what I’ll be doing in 20 years, I believe God designed this position for me for this time in my life. I've found a community of those who need guidance and those who guide. I've found a balance and an opportunity to remain true to myself as a family physician -- caring for everyone in every stage of life. Side note: The pay isn't bad either!

As faculty, I found what I was looking for -- my dream job; maybe you will too. Who gets that straight out of residency?

Meshia Waleh, M.D., is an assistant professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of South Carolina School Of Medicine.

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The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.