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Friday Nov 14, 2014

Exposing Students to Rural Health Key to Producing Rural Docs

Less than half an hour from the U.S.-Mexico border, the tiny town of Patagonia, Ariz., lies nestled between a sprawling state park and a massive national forest. Although I was born and raised in Tucson and started my practice there, I came to Patagonia in the 1990s when I was offered the opportunity to work at the small town's federally qualified health center.

Why would a big-city physician leave home to come to a town that was literally 1,000 times smaller?

I liked the idea of practicing full-scope family medicine. I liked the challenge of doing more with fewer resources, putting pressure on myself to become a better clinician. And I wanted the chance to develop true, close relationships with my patients. I got all that in Patagonia because in a town of less than 1,000 people, it didn't take long to become a vital part of the community. I stayed for 13 years.

Photo courtesy Chandra Tontsch
University of Arizona College of Medicine student Chandra Tontsch, right, completed a family medicine rotation in Lakeside, Ariz., with preceptor Elizabeth Bierer, M.D. The college places medical students in rural settings in hopes that they will later choose to practice in underserved areas. 

In 2006, the University of Arizona recruited me to teach rural health in Tucson. Earlier this year, I took on the role of director of the university's Rural Health Professions Program. Although I am no longer providing rural health care as an individual physician, my goal is to show medical students the rewards this area of medicine offers and hopefully draw more of them to this important practice setting.

More than 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but rural physicians account for only about 10 percent of the physician workforce. Compounding the problem is the fact that many of the physicians practicing in these areas are approaching retirement and not enough young physicians are stepping up to take their place. In fact, less than 5 percent of physicians who graduated from medical schools from 2006-08 went on to practice in rural areas.

At the state level, as much as one-third of Arizona's population lives in primary care health professional shortage areas. The state has more than 140 primary care shortage areas (including some inner-city areas), and it has been estimated that Arizona would need more than 300 additional primary care physicians to address the problem.

In our Rural Health Professions Program, 22 students are selected at the end of their first year and placed in rural settings, primarily working with family physicians. During their third year, students are required to complete a clinical rotation in a rural setting in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, or surgery. (Many do more than one rotation in rural areas.) Finally, during their fourth year, students are encouraged to go back to rural settings for a four-week preceptorship, and roughly three-fourths of them do. It's worth noting that the university's Phoenix campus runs its own similar program.

One of the challenges in my new role will be tracking outcomes to see how many of our graduates are practicing in rural areas. In the past few years, we have added a number of new physician preceptors who participated in the Rural Health Professions Program as students. Having been through the program, they can provide good mentorship to new students and encourage them to stay on this path.

Students who have questions about rural health may be interested in an American Medical Student Association webinar that (then) AAFP President-elect Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., participated in last month during National Primary Care Week.

Finally, the AAFP created member interest groups earlier this year as a forum for family physicians to share their mutual interests and address common concerns. One of the six groups that has already been established focuses on rural health. You can learn more on the AAFP website.

Carlos Gonzales, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Wednesday Oct 08, 2014

Asking Right Questions Critical to Making Right Match

It may seem like the academic year just started, but for fourth-year medical students, the decision about where to spend the next three or more years is just around the corner. And the fall and winter, also known as "interview season," is when it gets really interesting.

Fall is the time for fourth-years to prepare for the National Resident Matching Program -- better known as the Match -- by visiting and interviewing with potential residency programs. The AAFP offers a tremendous free resource -- Strolling Through the Match  -- that can be helpful to students regardless of year or specialty interest. The 80-page PDF covers a wide range of topics:

  • residency application timeline and checklist;
  • introduction to the Electronic Residency Application Service and the specialties that participate;
  • a residency program evaluation guide;
  • residency selection steps and interviewing tips;
  • examples of how the Match works for applicants;
  • new tips on post-interview etiquette; and  
  • tips on writing a curriculum vitae and a personal statement.

We used Strolling Through the Match widely at the University of Alabama when I was a student, and the information is practical and thorough. Still, some of the most valuable advice I received when preparing for interview season came from those who had been through the process and got their desired Match results, So, I thought it might be helpful to share the tips and takeaways from my experience just last year.

The most important thing to evaluate at each interview is how well you fit in with the faculty and, most importantly, the residents, because you will be working closely with them for the next three years (or more). If you can't get along with them, your life will be miserable.

After that, you have to prioritize the features you desire in a program, such as teaching exposure and the amount and extent of care you will provide to pediatric, obstetric and adult patients, as well as the amount of time you will spend working in inpatient versus outpatient settings. Your residency experiences form the bulk of your medical training, and if you aren't trained on something during residency, it's far more arduous to make that happen after residency.

If you have a spouse or significant other, involve that person in the decision-making process, especially if you are moving somewhere new. You will be extremely busy during residency, and he or she will have to spend a lot of time without you. Your loved one needs to be happy where you are going.

Realize that you aren't likely to find a perfect program, but you will have a gut feeling about where you belong, and that is more important than anything else.

You may already have interviews scheduled, but do you know what questions to ask? Here are some things to consider asking at each of your visits:

  • What are the program's board passage rates? This will give you an idea of how good the clinical experience is.
  • Where do the program's graduates get jobs? This will tell you whether the graduates are respected and perceived to be well-trained by the local community.
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program? 
  • What kind of interaction do residents and faculty have outside of work?

While you are evaluating the programs you visit, keep in mind that you also are being evaluated at every moment, not just during the formal interviews. Residents will scrutinize you for your "fit" at any moment they interact with you, including meals and tours, so treat every moment seriously and always be on your toes.

Residency representatives will want to know why you are interested in their program and what specific aspects drew you there, so show you have done your research and be prepared to name something about that program other than just its name or reputation.

While fourth-year medical students are planning for the long term, it's not too early for first- through third-year students to start building CVs, learning as much as they can about each specialty, and seeking experiences that can help prepare them to choose their future. Here are some possible scenarios to consider:

  • First-year students, you can use your only summer off during medical school to experience family medicine. Find international service opportunities for students, or find a family physician to shadow. Your faculty or state chapter can help you with this.
  • Second-year students, build your CV by pursuing leadership opportunities on your campus -- for example, with your school's family medicine interest group.
  • Third-year students, get out of the academic health center during your elective rotations and experience primary care where it occurs most often -- in the community. Use the AAFP's clerkship directory to find an elective rotation.

Tate Hinkle, M.D., is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Friday Sep 19, 2014

'What? Me Worry?' Family Medicine Residency Trained Me Well

From the first day of medical school we start a countdown to graduation and cannot wait until we are finished. Then we do the same thing in residency with even more vigor. The most frequently asked question we hear is, "When will you be finished?" We all answer -- with longing in our eyes -- that we are eager to be free, out on our own and liberated from residency requirements. No more checking out to attendings, holding interns' hands, or eating five consecutive meals in the hospital cafeteria.

It wasn't that long ago that I was worried about seeing patients outside the comfort zone of my residency program. Now I am  mentoring David Paxton, left, a fourth-year medical student at West Virginia University.

But there is a point -- near the end of June -- when the end is in sight, and it is terrifying. The elation I thought I would experience (in my head, it always involved singing and skipping through the office past the exam rooms) was replaced by a GERD-inducing, mind-numbing fear that bordered on panic. I kept thinking, "Next week, I will see a patient and have NO ONE to ask to look at that rash or listen to this murmur. I will be alone."

Then, after a couple of weeks of being consumed by the fear of leaving my residency faculty, it was suddenly time to go to work. I had never even met my nurse. I was going to see patients -- MY patients -- who I will follow for the rest of their lives. And although I had my own panel of continuity patients during residency, there seemed to be so much more at stake with these new patients. What if they don't like me? What if I can't figure out what to do with the very first one? It felt like a major case of stage fright.

Much like during my medical school rotations, when the day arrived, I got up, made coffee, and left early ... but not too early because I've sat many a time in a parking lot of an office that wasn’t even unlocked yet. My drive to work is 25 miles on a two-lane state road along a river where there is zero cell phone service and little traffic. About halfway to the office I saw something huge and black leap out of the river and attempt to sprint across the road. I slammed on the brakes and then watched a black bear climb up the side of the mountain that borders the road. All the while I was thinking that no one would believe this. But when I got to work and told my new co-workers about my bear sighting, they were unimpressed. They have all hit bears with their cars or seen them in their yards.

A couple of hours later, it was time to see a patient. My first patient. The front desk gave me an easy case, a walk-in who already had been diagnosed. I finished that patient, struggled through using a new electronic health records system and even submitted billing. I survived (so did the patient) and the world had not ended.  I knew what to do and how to do it.

I looked a few days ahead in my schedule and found some seriously complicated stuff: refractory cases, uncommon or rare diseases, undiagnosed problems and genetic disorders -- lots of all of them. After about a week of seeing patients, I emailed my residency program director at Marshall University to say thanks. I had the training and background to take care of every patient who had walked through the door.

I love my job, and now I feel silly that I was ever nervous. Family medicine residencies are rigorous, and for good reason. We are the primary care workforce, and we have to be well trained and confident to manage complex patients and serve our communities well.

I had multiple patients who reported their reason for visiting was that they had been "waiting for the new doctor to come." These patients had high hopes, and I had to meet those expectations. Although I am not doing obstetrics (there isn't one hospital in the entire county) I have had multiple pregnant patients, so I have to know how to safely treat -- and just as importantly, counsel -- them, so my obstetrics training is well utilized. There are days when I see more pediatric patients than adults, and there are other days that the average age is 70. 

Throughout medical school and residency, I heard every argument that exists against choosing family medicine. The one I can 100 percent discount after just two short months of practice is the concept of getting bored doing primary care. Really? Bored? I could be a lot of things in my office (annoying, loud, messy) but bored is not one of them. Every day is full of amazing variations that I think highlight family medicine as a specialty.  I learn new things, read new articles and teach every day. 

My patients are my favorite part of my job, but my second-favorite part is that I have medical students. I'll never forget my first patient as a student, my first continuity patient as a resident, or my first patient in my new office. And I'll definitely always remember the first medical student who trusted me to teach him family medicine. Of all the awards and achievements I have hanging on the walls, nothing beats having a medical school place a student in my office. 

I remember asking my rural preceptor when I was a third-year medical student why she took students into her office. Did she get paid or have access to university resources? Now I know why she just smiled at me and explained that she thought they gave her an email address.

Obviously, no one asks me when I'm going to be finished with school/residency anymore. But now I have new daily questions that follow a similar theme: Where are you from (and they want a town name because they can already tell that, like them, I'm from West Virginia)? Are you going to stay here? How long do you think you'll stay?

It feels good to be wanted, and it feels good to be a family physician. And yes, it feels amazing to be done with residency!

Kimberly Becher, M.D., is the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Wednesday Sep 17, 2014

GME Reform: An AAFP Call to Action

Primary care is the foundation of high-performing health care systems throughout the world, but in the United States, we primary care physicians make up less than one-third of the physician workforce, and our numbers are dropping.

 I talked about the need to reform the graduate medical education system during a presentation Sept. 15 in Washington. Other speakers, from left, were pediatrician Fitzhugh Mullan, M.D.; Kisha Davis, M.D., M.P.H., the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors; AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, M.D.; and AAFP EVP and CEO Douglas Henley, M.D.

A growing number of organizations -- including the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME), the Pew Health Professions Commission and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- have stated that at least 40 percent of U.S. medical graduates need to enter primary care fields if we are to meet the needs of our nation's health care system. But our current GME system is failing to hit that mark because nearly 80 percent of new physicians are choosing subspecialty careers. We are rapidly falling behind.

A primary care physician shortage already exists, and it will only be exacerbated by our changing health care needs: a growing population, the increase in chronic disease seen in our aging population and expansion of health insurance coverage.

The calls for change are mounting. Last year, COGME -- which was created by Congress to provide assessments of physician workforce issues -- released a report that called for drastic changes in the GME system, including increased funding to support 3,000 more graduates per year and prioritized funding for high-priority specialties, including family medicine.

Just this July, the Institute of Medicine released its analysis of GME in the United States and found that the current system lacks transparency and accountability and is producing a physician workforce that doesn't meet the country's needs -- despite an annual $15 billion investment from U.S. taxpayers.

On analysis, it's not surprising that our current GME system produces the outcomes that it does, because funneling funds through hospitals leads to residency workforce decisions based on the financial needs of those local institutions and not on the overall needs of our health care system.

This week, I was pleased to join other AAFP leaders on Capitol Hill as we took things a step further, unveiling a new budget-neutral proposal that would address those issues of transparency and accountability while aligning funding resources with actual workforce needs. The Academy's proposal recommends that policymakers and legislators take the following steps:

  • Establish primary care thresholds and maintenance-of-effort requirements for all sponsoring institutions and teaching hospitals that currently receive Medicare and Medicaid GME financing.
  • Require all sponsoring institutions and teaching hospitals seeking new Medicare- and Medicaid-financed GME positions to allocate one-half of their new positions to primary care.
  • Limit direct GME and indirect medical education (IME) payments to training for "first-certificate" residency programs. Repurposing funding currently spent on fellowship training would be used to create more than 7,500 new first-certificate residency training positions.
  • Align financial resources with population health care needs through a 0.25 percent reduction in IME payments and reallocation of those resources to support community-based primary care training.
  • Fund the National Health Care Workforce Commission. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act created this panel to review health care workforce supply and demand, but Congress has failed to allocate funding for it.

Yet it is important to note that the current and future physician workforce cannot be corrected through GME reform alone.

Earlier this year, a task force created by the Council of Academic Family Medicine -- which comprises the Association of Departments of Family Medicine, the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors, the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine and the North American Primary Care Research Group -- with support from the AAFP, the AAFP Foundation and the American Board of Family Medicine, created the "Four Pillars for Primary Care Workforce Reform" concept, a comprehensive approach that includes:

  • the medical school pipeline,
  • the process of medical education, 
  • improving the practice environment for a more rewarding professional setting and 
  • primary care payment reform.  

Even as we work on all of these comprehensive reforms, changing the GME system is one of the most important policy levers we can pull now because of the vast government investment in the program and the multiple recent national reports calling for reform. Our GME system is stale. It was created in 1965 -- a different time -- and for a different purpose. Now, it is one of the few areas of the health care system that has not experienced major disruption in composition, function or financing.

Please join me in engaging our nation's leaders in a conversation about why our GME system should be reformed. It is time for the investment our nation makes in GME to be transparent and accountable and to produce the physician workforce our country needs and deserves.

Jeff Cain, M.D., is board chair of the AAFP.

Friday Sep 05, 2014

Called to Serve: Being Patient-Centered Puts Joy Back Into Practice

One of the exciting things about being president of the AAFP is the many opportunities to interact with medical students from all over the country. I have frequently said that students are not so much our future as they are our present. They have the ability to affect us in a positive way with their curiosity, fresh perspective and drive. And we, in turn, have the ability to make an impact on them and to influence their education and training.

Along those lines, I wanted to share two recent experiences and challenge each one of us to step up and build these critical relationships.

Our recent National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students drew more than 1,200 students and nearly 1,100 residents to Kansas City, Mo.

I was honored to be asked to welcome all attendees to the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students a few weeks ago in Kansas City, Mo. This is the largest meeting of medical students and residents in the country, and this year we had record attendance, with 1,211 medical students and 1,092 residents.

For students in particular, National Conference is a critical leadership development opportunity. Obviously, we want to expose them to family medicine, and the experience of attending the conference often solidifies students' decision to pursue family medicine as their specialty of choice. But the conference has another important function: educating and challenging students to advocate and be part of our policymaking process.

One of my main messages at National Conference also was the focus of my closing main stage presentation. During that session, I challenged students to be patient-centered in all they do. I let them know that they have this opportunity, from the ground up, to be patient-centered even before they enter the workforce.  

National Conference is a great experience for attendees, but our engagement needs to extend beyond those three days each year. We can all look for other ways to reach out to medical students where they are. For example, we recently had our second Family Medicine on Air session using Google Hangout. This is an innovative approach to connecting people, and it is a technique the Academy likely will be using in other ways to connect with members.

The structure of the Google Hangout -- which you can view on Google Plus or YouTube -- allowed people to actually see me, moderator Alice Esame (a fourth-year student from Howard University School of Medicine who also is the AAFP's student liaison to the Student National Medical Association), and AAFP student interest staff as we talked about the patient-centered medical home (PCMH). I gave a brief introduction in which I emphasized that the PCMH is truly about a philosophy and an attitude as well as about being patient-centered. Students need to understand the PCMH, yes, but most importantly, they need to be empowered to become patient-centered even if they don't yet understand all the aspects of practice transformation.

The opportunity to be patient-centered truly is a way to put joy back into a practice. It is a way for all of us to remember that we are called to serve, and that we can truly help our patients often just through the compassion we display in recognizing that they are dealing with difficult issues. This is especially important for students to understand as they consider choosing a career in family medicine that will be satisfying to them, as well as to their patients.

I was impressed with the quality of the questions that came from the students. For example, they were concerned about the administrative hurdles that come with practice transformation. This allowed me to emphasize our advocacy efforts to help streamline the process involved with PCMH recognition.

Another question acknowledged the important role of other members of the health care team, such as care managers, nurses and others. Specifically, the student's question addressed how to assemble a team in rural settings where there are fewer resources. This gave me a chance to talk about how at my first practice in Trenton, Ga., the small town's health care professionals (chiropractors, pharmacists, public health officials, etc.) worked together even though we weren't in the same building -- or the same business -- to make sure that we provided the care our community needed. The key was good communication as well as the recognition that we all were working together for our patients' well-being.  

The students were on top of recent evidence, too, quoting an article in JAMA that found PCMH pilots from 2008-11 were not associated with health outcome improvements. I pointed out that this article described older PCMH models, and so was essentially similar to being concerned about a review of the iPhone 2 when we're actually using the iPhone 5. PCMH models now are significantly different. Those pilots did not have many of the patient-centered changes in place such as extended hours, and did not really study decreased ED visits, and hospitalizations which are clear improvements in current PCMH pilots.

Students keep us on our toes. They challenge us, in a good way, with their fresh viewpoints, inquisitive minds, and drive to do things the best way possible. And the questions these students asked amply illustrated that reality.

The challenge for us as educators is to recognize that our students need a different approach for many of these issues. If you are an educator, or involved with a family medicine interest group, consider watching the Hangout and sharing the link. You can also refer to or use supporting materials that are available to help our family medicine interest groups, faculty and others who influence medical students frame these critical issues for them.

For members who work with students -- even if you're not faculty, I challenge you to engage them in discussion about patient-centeredness. Talk about how you have been changing your practice to become more patient-centered. Take advantage of this chance for us to walk our talk and demonstrate to our students how much we love what we do.  

Although I still say students are our present, they are definitely also our future. We have a chance to give them a solid grounding in patient-centered education, and they can help to move us forward in our own processes.

Our next edition of Family Medicine on Air will address what medical students need to know about direct primary care. Stay tuned for more details about that event, which is planned for November.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Thursday Aug 14, 2014

On Air: AAFP President Engages With Students in Online Forum

I recently returned from the AAFP's National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students -- which set attendance records, by the way, with more than 1,200 students and nearly 1,100 residents -- and I am tremendously fired up! The energy of that group, and the challenges they put before us, motivate me and all of our Board members to do an even better job representing these critical members of our Academy.

With that in mind, I want to share some innovative new things we have been working on to connect with students and residents.

My Google Hangout with Family Medicine Interest Group leaders in July allowed students to ask questions on a variety of topics, including direct primary care, leadership development and patient satisfaction.

Almost a year ago, I was invited to be a featured speaker for the American Medical Student Association's National Primary Care Week webinar series, part of the AAFP's collaborative efforts with AMSA on this annual event. I participated in a webinar with a number of student leaders. This exciting experience allowed me to get the message of family medicine out to students nationally. That led me to think about ways we could start a similar process within the AAFP. I have been trying hard to increase our use of technology and to find new ways for the Academy to connect with medical students where they are and how they want to be reached. Many medical students and residents are extremely adept at using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype and actually prefer to access information digitally.  

I often have ideas and send out frequent emails to Academy staff asking questions and seeking suggestions for growth. On this topic, our Medical Education Division responded quickly with a suggestion that we try Google Hangouts to connect with students. I had never heard of this tool before, but the Academy staff members responsible for increasing student interest in family medicine were exceedingly excited about the opportunity. We explored the resources, did test runs, and mobilized our dynamic Family Medicine Interest Group Network leaders to work through it. This process is similar to platforms like Skype; however, in addition to connecting people by video, it also allows users to share screens, use PowerPoint, correspond with other participants in the session and perform other tasks. The utilities seemed ideal for some of the things that we wanted to do.  

We had our first Hangout on July 8, and you can watch it on the FMIG Network's Google Plus page or on YouTube. We recognized that this resource would allow us to reach out to medical students and residents all over the country. We also realized that we needed to focus the content so that these video installments, which are 15 minutes in length or less, are long enough to be informative but short enough for busy med students to work into their schedules.

The results of the first Hangout were outstanding. We received a great deal of positive feedback, and, most importantly, the FMIG Network leaders were excited about having a new tool to help them coordinate FMIG groups all over the country. Google Hangouts allow us to create an immediate connection between AAFP leadership and our students and residents. This is one of the things that we love most -- being able to talk with these enthusiastic members personally, answering their questions and sharing our passion for family medicine. This platform could help connect students who don't have much exposure to family physicians at their medical school with FP leaders who can provide them with insights on important issues in health care.

In addition to using Google Hangouts, I'd like to find other ways of tapping into this technology to help all of our members. For example, one of the biggest challenges we all face in these busy times is traveling to and from meetings. Although face-to-face meetings are critical for some functions and discussions, a great deal of what occurs at many meetings could easily be handled in a different fashion. Email is not always ideal, because visual cues and clues are still important and connect people in significant ways. Perhaps, however, Google Hangouts could allow us to have some meetings in a more dynamic fashion and respect people's need for work/life balance. Any time we can minimize travel and still get the work of the Academy done -- that is a good thing!

Moreover, especially with students and residents, utilizing this technology may allow a quicker connection between these member groups and our leadership for such things as noon conferences, forums and talking groups. In fact, some of you may have ideas about how to use this and similar technology. I would love to hear your thoughts, and I hope we can continue to move our Academy into a more efficient future. In so many ways, this is actually an aspect of the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) because what we can do for ourselves to become more effective and efficient is something we can then also do for our patients.  

These days of telemedicine and telehealth are challenging us to expand our boundaries. I look forward to continuing that expansion with all of you. Our next Google Hangout will be about the PCMH and is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 26. You can join us on Google Plus or YouTube.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Thursday Aug 07, 2014

Reality Check: Residents Aren't Prepared to Deal With Patients' Financial, Coverage Limits

In medical school, our patient encounters typically consisted of completing a history -- including talking with patients about any concerns or issues that led them to seek care -- doing a physical exam, and developing a diagnosis and treatment plan with the resident and attending.

In the real world, it turns out, it's not that simple. I recently began the first year of family medicine residency, and I quickly realized that some important steps were left out of the learning process. As students, we were not often exposed to what happened next for patients. We missed the part where the physician talked with the patient about his or her insurance, what it covered and what it did not.

 This week I'm attending the AAFP's National Conference in Kansas City, Mo., which offers students and residents opportunities to learn about clinical skills, leadership and more. One thing students don't learn in medical school is how to manage patients who lack the means to pay for needed treatment.

I recently saw a patient, a woman in her mid-30s, who came in for a checkup. In addition to her chronic conditions, including hypertension and diabetes, she complained of joint pain in her knees and hips. After taking her history and talking with her about her discomfort, I wanted to have her tested for rheumatoid arthritis.

Her first question was, "How much will that cost?" The patient had private insurance, but her plan left a lot to be desired. It covered office visits and some medications, but it did not cover labs.

The patient, a single mom who also was supporting her mother, informed me that she already was paying off a large lab bill from a previous visit. She needed to repeat labs related to the medications for her chronic conditions, but she couldn't pay for those, let alone for a blood test for rheumatoid arthritis.

I could have ordered the labs, but there wasn't any point in doing so because she told me it would have to wait. It's not that she would have been noncompliant, she simply couldn't afford to do what needed to be done. From her perspective, doing the labs would have meant asking the people she supports to sacrifice something else.

I asked her to come back in two months so that we could reassess her situation -- both physically and financially. For now, she plans to continue treating her joint pain with OTC medications.

This situation is hard for me to get used to. I can't do what I want to do -- what I've been trained to do -- to help some of my patients. Instead, I have to consider a patient's medical, social and financial situation and work within those limitations.

Medical students should have more exposure to this part of the process so they are more aware of the reality that awaits them. What do you do -- or what can you do -- when your patients' financial or coverage limitations are barriers to needed care?

Tate Hinkle, M.D., is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Friday Aug 01, 2014

Rural Practice May Pose Challenges, But It's Where I Was Meant to Be

Two years ago, at the beginning of my second year of residency, I signed a contract to work in a rural county in West Virginia. Although I've known where I was going for quite a while, I don't think I really understood what living here would mean until now.

I grew up in what most people would consider a rural area of West Virginia, but my new home is in an even less developed region of the state. You know the kind of area I mean, where you are driving down the interstate and there is nothing to see but trees. There are no gas stations and few restaurants -- it's really mostly just trees. Not only does the town nearest me not have a stoplight, there's no stoplight to be found in the entire county -- nor in an adjacent county, for that matter.

But this is exactly where I want to be. I love growing a lot of my own food and cooking or canning it. I wanted a home where my husband could hunt and my son could fish, and we were fortunate to find just that. The sense of community in these rural areas is genuine and is part of what drew me to work and live here. I did multiple rotations away from my medical school and residency, and those that really stood out for me were the rural ones. It was obvious to me that rural West Virginia was where I was meant to practice. Often, people will live in a larger city and commute to work because that is what resonates with their family or their lifestyle. Not us. We wanted to hear nothing but bugs when we open our windows at night.

There are things that I hadn't considered about living here, however, that quickly revealed themselves. The first neighbor I met warned me that the power goes out often, and that if it stays off long enough, there is no water either (not that I'm all that excited about tainted West Virginia water), because an electric pump brings it up the mountain.

I've also been warned that the road floods, and that I might get stuck at home or be unable to get home if there is too much rain, too much snow, or -- the more common scenario in a West Virginia flood -- too much of both together.

And then there is the Internet, which is only available through a satellite provider. It is expensive, takes eons to download documents and, generally speaking, makes it a struggle to even check my email. Gone are the days of streaming World Cup games or watching programs on Netflix.

Also gone is the option of running down to the local Mexican restaurant to watch a game while someone else cooks dinner; that's because the only restaurants in town are a Dairy Queen that closes during the winter and a carry-out pizza place. Oh wait, there's also a Tudor's Biscuit World, a standard found in nearly every small West Virginia town that I can't even begin to explain.

Don't get me wrong, I am happier than I've been in years. We eat food we cook ourselves for every meal and spend far more time outside. We could spend hours identifying birds and picking blackberries. My son is learning to ride his bike on our road, which might see three cars on a busy day. The moon rises behind two distant mountain ridges that we can see from our deck.

I realize this lifestyle is not for everyone. Although many of my patients and I choose to live in a rural part of our state, many are here by default. West Virginia has the highest homeownership rate in the country at 76 percent. That's right -- we are first in something positive.

It is a multifactorial situation driven, in large part, by a tendency to stay close to home, inherit land and homes, but also because there are not adequate employment and education opportunities for many of the state's residents.

One thing I have already learned is that most of the public health and wellness strategies used in larger cities will not work here. There is no venue for truly large-scale advertising because much of the population -- regardless of financial status -- relies on the newspaper and does not have access to the Web due to limited Internet availability. You can't direct patients to healthcare.gov or familydoctor.org. These patients need doctors, often doctors who will go to their homes, and patient information developed with appropriate health literacy in mind. Even a simple obesity intervention such as calorie-counting is often doomed to failure because many people cook from scratch and there are no food labels.

But these are challenges I embrace. I value the trust my patients place in me, and reaching out to connect with them to find solutions to their health care challenges -- especially those complicated by social, financial or logistical hurdles -- strengthens that relationship far more than any simple treatment regimen. I live here; I understand.

In addition to appreciating rural living challenges, I have been experiencing life without health insurance. I didn't go straight through college and medical school so -- like some of my patients -- I've had periods of time without health insurance coverage in the past. I have always found my advocacy voice for the uninsured to be louder than some, partly because of my first-hand experience with the medical system from an uninsured perspective.

The first time I found myself uninsured, I was 22 years old, had just graduated from college (this was before you could stay on your parents' plan until age 26), and was living in remote West Virginia in the Monongahela National Forest working on a research project as a contract employee. I would run on the rail trails nearby, and one evening, I rolled and broke something in my ankle. I don't know exactly what I broke because I didn't have enough money to seek medical attention. I bought a plastic air cast that I duct-taped into a hiking boot and went back to work because there were zero sick days. So, not only did I experience an injury without access to health care, I still live with the implications of an untreated fracture that didn't heal properly.

At least then it was just me. Now I have a family for whom I had provided health insurance for years, but that coverage ended June 30 when I graduated from residency. Why not just start my new job July 1? Insurance companies take up to 90 days to credential health care professionals, and until that process is complete, I can't see patients. So, just as many other graduating residents who have a gap between graduation and starting work, I again do not have health insurance. Granted, there are safety nets in place; I could extend my prior plan under COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), if needed, and in West Virginia, we have an extensive network of federally qualified health centers where I can pay according to a sliding scale based on my income. However, a gap in coverage is a gap in access to my primary care health professional and to preventive services for my family, as well as being a huge gap in my peace of mind.

I think I am a pretty responsible person, and I value continuity of care. Yet here I sit with no ready access to health care despite knowing the risks and insurance industry protocols. This situation further fuels my desire to promote the AAFP's vision of transforming health care to achieve optimal health for everyone. We have made some progress but we still have a lot of work left to do, and each community provides its own set of lessons to be learned.

Kimberly Becher, M.D., is the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Wednesday Jul 30, 2014

Keeping It Real: Preceptorship Exposes Students to Importance of Rural Family Medicine

Roughly 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but only 11 percent of U.S. physicians live in those same communities. In fact, the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) has designated more than 6,000 Health Professional Shortage Areas for primary care, and 67 percent of those are in nonurban areas. According to HRSA, it would take 17,000 additional primary care health professionals to achieve a ratio of one clinician per 2,000 patients in these locations.

So, how do we convince more medical students to first choose family medicine and then practice it in the places that need them the most?

I recently had the opportunity to talk to students during the Appalachian Preceptorship, which exposes students from around the nation to rural family medicine in Tennessee. Ten students from seven medical schools participated in the four-week program.

Let them experience it first-hand.

Nearly 30 years ago, Forrest Lang, M.D., retired vice chair of the Department of Family Medicine at East Tennessee State University (ETSU's) Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City, created the Appalachian Preceptorship to introduce students to rural family medicine in a highly relevant and culturally sensitive way. Since then, hundreds of medical students from all over the country have come to Tennessee to experience first-hand the delivery of primary care in Appalachia.

It is critical that we find ways to connect with medical students early in their first and second years, and this year all of the students participating in the program were sophomores. We know that in the first 18 years of the program, more than 80 percent of the students who participated matched to residencies in primary care, including 60 percent who matched to family medicine programs.

Students are called to medicine to help people, and there is no better way to do so than practicing family medicine in rural, underserved America. In the Appalachian Preceptorship, students participate in one week of didactic sessions at ETSU before spending three weeks with a physician practicing in a rural Appalachian community.

These dedicated family physicians allow students to become part of their practices, and the students see patients, participate in the diagnosis and management of acute and chronic diseases, practice preventive medicine, and enjoy a wealth of other experiences.  

The experience is invaluable for both the students and the preceptors. In fact, we dedicate significant resources at ETSU to connecting with our preceptors throughout the year, and we devote a special weekend session to allowing them to offer feedback on our educational methods and identify and address the resources they need.  

Another key aspect of this program is the opportunity it gives us to show students that it is possible to not only survive but to thrive in small-town practices. Some of the preceptors are from individual physician practices, and most of the rest belong to small groups. The students are able to experience how health care is provided in these communities and to really understand the nature of physician-patient relationships. In addition, each of these preceptors and the communities in which they work are great examples of different types of patient-centered medical homes. This reinforces to the students that team-based care is not about having everyone located under the same roof; but rather the resources that are available within the community to care for its residents.

Another advantage of this process has been the chance it offers to expose students from all over the country to our school's residency programs. Almost every year, students who have participated in the preceptorship interview with at least one of our three family medicine residency programs. These are outstanding students, and we are frequently blessed that at least one of them matches with us. This is important because data from the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care indicate that up to 75 percent of physicians will practice within 100 miles of their residency. In this way, the ETSU programs are consistently fulfilling their mission to provide rural family physicians for our patients.  

On a personal note, I had the privilege of talking with students about a number of issues, including the importance of herbal medicine in Appalachian culture, bedside manner and patient-centered communication. I encourage each of you to consider how you can be a part of such a process in your community.

If you are academician, are there ways you could create student or even resident experiences that can mirror some of these goals of exposing students to underserved areas?  If you are in private practice, is there a school or residency in your area that you could connect with to create a unique and transformative experience for learners?

Although we struggle nationally with physician pipeline issues, this is how we can walk our talk and directly influence students. This is a great opportunity to remember that the root word of doctor is docere -- to teach!  

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Tuesday Jul 22, 2014

Like Father, Like Son: How I Raised a (Future) Family Physician

Like many small-town family physicians, I've volunteered over the years as a team doctor for our local school's athletic teams. On Friday nights, I often found myself on the sidelines, watching football and cheering on the local team (which often included many of my patients). More often than not, my son Brett would tag along, soaking up anything there was to learn.

On one particular fall evening, one of our players was badly injured, and I hurried onto the field to evaluate his condition. In retrospect, I probably should have paused just long enough to tell my son, who was about 7, to stay put.

Last weekend I represented the AAFP at the Nebraska AFP's board meeting. My son Brett, left, is a student member of our state chapter's board of directors.

As I kneeled next to the injured young athlete, I heard a small voice from behind me say, "Dad, there's blood."

That's Brett. Always eager to experience and learn something new. It wasn't the last time he got an up-close view of his dad trying to help someone who needed it. We've lived in a few small Nebraska towns that lack urgent care facilities and hospitals. So when people needed help in a hurry, they often call me directly. If Brett was with me I got one of those calls, he often came along to the office.

I remember one day when Brett was about 10, a young girl fell and needed stitches in her chin. Brett and I were out running errands when I got the call, so we went straight to my office to meet the girl and her parents. With the permission of the patient and her parents, Brett watched me clean the wound and stitch it closed.

Through these types of encounters, Brett learned not only about medicine but about the importance of building relationships with patients, families and the community.

As a high-school student, he participated in a medical interest group and expressed interest in becoming a family physician. He followed up on that by shadowing other family physicians in our area.

When he enrolled in a college halfway across the country, I thought he might come back with plans to become a subspecialist because although Brett has seen all the positive things that family medicine has to offer, he is aware of the payment issues and other challenges we face, as well.

He also knows the time demands of being a family physician. One year, Brett and I signed up for a father-son basketball camp. The night they were taking photos of the sons with their fathers, I got tied up at work and was late. The other kids got a nice memento to remember the fun experience they shared with their dads, and Brett got a photo of himself. Alone.

But Brett has stayed the course. Now in his fourth year at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, he is a student member of the Nebraska AFP Board of Directors. This past weekend, I represented the AAFP at the Nebraska AFP's annual meeting, and my son was there as a member of our state chapter's board. It was a proud moment, and Brett has given me plenty of those.

He's served as president of the Student Alliance for Global Health and in the student senate at UNMC. But the point of this post isn't just for me to say how proud I am of my son. It's to point out the importance of mentoring. Brett obviously got an early start, but if we expose students -- in high school or college -- to the broad scope of family medicine and show them the relationships we develop with our patients, they will understand and value what we do.

And some, no doubt, will follow.

Robert Wergin, M.D., is president-elect of the AAFP.

Tuesday May 20, 2014

Turn the Page: Saying Goodbye Not Easy for Graduating Resident, Patients

My residency is almost over. By this point in our careers, all graduating family medicine residents have spent four years in college, four in medical school and at least three years (sometimes four) in residency. You might think there would only be elation, joy and relief on the cusp of completing this grueling, 11-year process.

It has been years of 80-hour (or more) workweeks, cafeteria food (if you even have time to go there), missing your kids' school events, missing your spouse's birthday, being that relative who misses weddings, funerals and Mother's Day -- all while struggling to pay the bills. By this time in some other industries, we might have made a fortune by working such long hours, but instead we are in serious debt. Most of us owe more in student loans than we do on our mortgages.

The bond a patient can develop with his or her family physician is amazing. Here I am with a patient who is interested in following me to my new practice -- more than two hours away.

So why would anyone sign up for the not-so-enticing path I just described?

Three words: the patient relationship.

As a medical student, you get limited exposure to continuity of care because rotations are usually eight weeks long, at most, so the number of repeated contacts with a specific patient or family is limited. Family medicine residency, however, focuses on relationships and caring for a patient across all settings, whether that be at the physician's office, a nursing home, the patient's home, a hospital or a hospice facility.

I've delivered babies and handed them off in the delivery room to a grandmother who is also my patient. Moments like that give you more enthusiasm and energy than a venti coffee ever could.

What I'm realizing as I near the end of my training is that patients get more than quality medical care from our interactions. They develop a bond with us that has far-reaching implications. My patients feel like they know me as a person, not just as a diagnostician. We have conversations about their priorities and how their financial and logistical realities relate to treatment. We grow to understand each other.

I don't think most patients in a residency training program realize how much we appreciate them. They quite literally provide the foundation for our specialty training. Most of us can remember our first patient in the office, our first well-child visit and our first reading of a patient's obituary. We remember the cards and notes patients send us, but most importantly, we remember how they humbled us with their complex medical cases.

I recently added a little spiel to each patient encounter I have about how I will be leaving the program and transitioning them to another resident in July. This conversation fails to get any easier with repetition.

I have had multiple patients cry. Several have stood up and hugged me, and a lot have asked for directions to where I am going next.

Through this process, I have noticed a difference between two groups of patients. Those who I inherited from a former resident (or from generations of residents in my program) smile and say I better pick a good physician to take my place. In contrast, the patients I acquired from the emergency room or hospital and brought to this practice during my residency -- many of whom had never had a family doctor before -- tend to enter a brief panic. I explain that the same attending physicians who have been joining our visits occasionally are still going to be here to precept the residents, that the incoming class of residents is wonderful, and that the same nurses will answer their phone calls. Some of those patients say that they don't want a new doctor, and they will drive the 2 1/2 hours to my new office to see me.

I've heard over and over, 'I've never found a doctor like you,' 'You listen to me,' 'You know my whole family.' They say they like being able to come with their kids to one big, long appointment for everyone. They like to see a face they know if they get admitted to the hospital. And women have told me they want to have the same doctor take care of them during and after their pregnancy and see their new babies.

To all of these cares and concerns, there's really only one reply I can give, and it's a reassuring one: That's family medicine. I am a family doctor, and they will get the same care and have the same opportunities across generations with their next family doctor. I am nothing special within family medicine; it's family medicine that is special.

There are more than 3,000 family medicine residents who will be graduating soon. What tips do you have for other third-year residents who are preparing to say goodbye to their patients? If you've had a particularly gratifying goodbye, please share your story in the comments field below.

Kimberly Becher, M.D., is the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Wednesday Apr 30, 2014

Medical Student Advocates Make Big Impression on Legislators at FMCC

When I sat down at my state's table at the Family Medicine Congressional Conference (FMCC) earlier this month, I was quite surprised to find two of my Quillen College of Medicine students already sitting there.

Melissa Robertson, left, and Jessica White, right, seniors at East Tennessee State University's James H. Quillen College of Medicine, met with legislators from their state -- including Rep. Marsha Blackburn, center -- during the Family Medicine Congressional Conference in Washington.

The AAFP provides two scholarships for students and two for residents to attend this annual advocacy event in Washington, which trains family physicians (and future FPs) to advocate for their patients and for family medicine. The AAFP Foundation also awards a student scholarship, so I thought perhaps these students -- Jessica White and Melissa Robertson -- had earned scholarships to attend. But as it turns out, they decided to make the trip from Tennessee at their own expense because they thought it was an important learning opportunity.

In fact, 55 students and residents from around the country attended FMCC this year. Their spirit and efforts give me great hope for our future.

FMCC provides a remarkable blend of advocacy education and skills development along with the chance to immediately put those learnings into action. On the first day of the conference, we heard from advocacy experts, representatives of federal health agencies, congressional staff and two legislators.

On the second day of the event, more than 200 students, residents and practicing physicians took what they had learned on day one to Capitol Hill to talk with legislators and staff about issues such as physician payment, education and workforce. One of the best parts of this conference is the opportunity to share personal stories with our legislators. There is no question these conversations have a big impact and are one of the reasons face-to-face meetings have such potential to make a difference in promoting our interests.

Legislators and congressional staff hear from the AAFP Board several times a year, but stories from members can be so important because they speak directly to legislators who are elected to represent their state and district and tell them how constituents are being affected by the various challenges family physicians face.

For example, Jessica and Melissa, two seniors who have matched into family medicine residency programs, were able to talk about important education issues during our visits. As we reviewed the key points from the previous day's advocacy training sessions, we realized their presence was especially serendipitous given their paths to family medicine.

Jessica matched in Asheville, N.C., just across the mountains from Quillen. She will join the family medicine residency at the Mountain Area Health Education Center(MAHEC), which is a teaching health center. These centers provide creative approaches to training family medicine residents based in the communities that most need them.

Under the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program established as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, GME funds go directly to the centers. However, the THCGME program, which started in 2011, is only funded through 2015.

The program is now completing its third academic year, graduating its first cycle of residents and sending almost 300 primary care physicians into the workforce. It should come as no surprise, then, that extending funding for the teaching health centers program is one of the Academy's top legislative priorities during this congressional session.

Without such an extension, Jessica's residency program cannot guarantee her salary for all three years of her training. Accepting this offer represents a remarkable leap of faith on her part. It also provided a great example to the people we talked with about the importance of extending funding for these programs.

Melissa is a nontraditional medical student and former elementary school teacher, so she brings a critical, real-world perspective to both medicine and medical education. She came to the AAFP's National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students two years ago and got the advocacy bug there. During that conference, she was elected to the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine's Board of Directors and now is serving her second term.

Melissa, who matched to our East Tennessee State University residency program in Bristol, has a real knack for asking common-sense questions that help cut through administrative layers. Her particular path has made advocacy issues such as student debt and the primary care salary gap extremely important in her world.

Together, the three of us considered the day's congressional visits and how to tell these stories in meaningful ways. First up was Tennessee Tuesday, which is a weekly breakfast during which Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., welcome everyone visiting from our home state to Washington. They are always excited to meet their constituents and were especially eager to meet these medical students.

Next, we met with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Jessica's family lives in Blackburn's district, so this connection immediately lent relevance to our advocacy stories in a way that had not happened in my previous conversations with the congresswoman. Our legislators certainly pay attention to their constituents, and we were able to get some unscheduled time and a photo opportunity with Blackburn.

Moreover, during a subsequent meeting with Blackburn's health aide, we were able to talk about topics in a totally different light because of the students' circumstances. This latter meeting also showed Jessica and Melissa the critical role legislative aides play in setting agendas for elected members of Congress.

We then met with Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., R-Tenn., who represents Quillen's district. Originally, we had been scheduled to meet his legislative aide, but when he heard there were two medical students from his district present, he immediately made time to meet with them. In fact, their stories were so compelling that he asked if we would walk to the Capitol with him because he had to vote, but he did not want to cut short his discussion with Jessica and Melissa.

Jessica’s story about her uncertain financial situation at the residency program in North Carolina grabbed Roe’s attention in a way my previous discussions with him could not, in part, because Christ Community Health Services in Memphis is one of more than a dozen residencies that are expected to start receiving THCGME funds beginning in the 2014-15 academic year.

As a nontraditional student who made a huge financial sacrifice to become a physician later in life, Melissa's story also sparked his interest immensely. He specifically asked her about her medical school debt and how that influenced her and other classmates in their specialty choice.

Roe also took notice when Melissa addressed another of our advocacy points -- the need to renew and increase commitments to GME, such as through Title VII funding, and to consider how we can increase the number of students choosing primary care specialties.

As he prepared to walk to the Capitol, Roe asked Melissa and Jessica whether they would come back to his office after he returned from the vote because he wanted to talk more with them.

After we finished talking with Roe, I left for a media interview and then headed out of town for the Minnesota AFP meeting. By this point, Melissa and Jessica were seasoned advocates, and I knew our messages were in good hands and would be heard in powerful ways. They went on the next visit on their own and later went back to Roe's office.

The three of us texted about the overall experience later, and we made plans to improve how we present the need for advocacy to students and our residents. In fact, Melissa is meeting with the Quillen Family Medicine Interest Group this week to talk about how to prepare for the Academy's resident/student conference scheduled for Aug. 7-9 in Kansas City, Mo. That is the "pay it forward" concept in action.

So, what can you do to pay it forward? In addition to the scholarship opportunities mentioned above, the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors sponsors 10 scholarships for residents to attend FMCC. But we could do more. Family medicine residencies, departments of family medicine, state chapters and even individual practices can help send students and residents to FMCC. Exposing students and residents to advocacy, a critical part of how we can improve the care of our patients, can pay huge dividends for those FPs-in-training and for our specialty.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Wednesday Apr 16, 2014

Chance to Shape FP Training, Education Prompts Career Move

I've lived my whole life in Indiana. My children -- like the three generations before them -- grew up here as well. Those children, now adults, still live near us here in Indianapolis.

My education and training -- from Ball State University to the Indiana University School of Medicine and the family medicine residency at Community Health Network -- all happened in the Hoosier State.

I'll be leaving my home state of Indiana behind next month to start a new job as the AAFP's vice president of education at the Academy's offices in Leawood, Kan.

My career started in rural private practice in the small town of Flora, Ind. -- population 2,000 -- before I came back to Indianapolis as faculty at the residency where I had trained. I stayed with Community Health Network for more than 20 years as residency director, vice president of medical affairs for two of its hospitals, chief medical officer for the entire eight-hospital network and, most recently, as the network's chief academic and medical affairs officer.

So what would it take to get me to leave my home state? Nothing less than a chance to make a positive, lasting difference in the education and training of medical students, family medicine residents and our active members on a national scale. That, of course, goes hand-in-hand with enhancing the quality of care delivered by our specialty.

I'll be leaving my position on the AAFP Board of Directors on May 3 (after the Board meets during the Annual Leadership Forum and National Conference of Special Constituencies). Nine days later, I'll start a new journey in Leawood, Kan., as the Academy's vice president for education.

I feel as though I have been training for this role for the past three decades. The majority of my career has been devoted to medical education and improving quality of care, so it's a natural fit. For example, for the past five years, my job responsibilities have included oversight of medical student education at our network's hospitals, our residency programs and the CME offerings we produce.

At the AAFP, I will be responsible for the Academy's efforts related to medical education and CME, including the education and training of medical students and residents; student interest in our specialty, including federal policies that affect it; and CME curriculum development, production, accreditation and regulations.

Many challenges await, but I'm excited to lead the AAFP's excellent staff who work in these areas, including those who support two commissions -- the Commission on Continuing Professional Development and the Commission on Education -- composed of family physicians who volunteer their time to address these vital issues.

We must ensure that medical students have top-notch exposure to family medicine and that they have good experiences when they do. That can be difficult, in part, because practicing physicians who enjoy teaching have competing demands for their time. But there is no doubt that good role models help build student interest in the specialty.

We are facing a shortage of primary care physicians that likely will worsen because of an aging population, a sizable number of physicians nearing retirement and a large number of patients gaining access to insurance as a result of health care reform. More -- and more targeted -- funding for family medicine residencies is needed to meet this demand, and GME funding and reform are high on the list of the Academy's legislative priorities.

Family physicians want to keep up-to-date with evidence-based CME, and the Academy will continue to improve and expand its offerings to ensure timely and convenient access to high-quality CME. We will build on the strong programing currently offered, and we always appreciate input from our members on how to better serve their CME needs.

On a more personal note, the challenges of this role also include succeeding the immensely accomplished and respected Perry Pugno, M.D., M.P.H., who is retiring after 40 years in family medicine, including 15 years of service to the Academy.

The challenges are great, but so are the opportunities. The key to improving health care in this country is to make it more primary care-oriented by placing greater emphasis on prevention and wellness. Family medicine is the specialty that does that better than any other. I am proud to have this opportunity to further strengthen our specialty through continuing efforts to enhance medical education at all levels.

Clif Knight, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Wednesday Mar 26, 2014

I Matched! And It's Good News All Around

I knew I wanted to be a family physician before I ever made it to medical school. As a college student with an interest in medicine, I shadowed an anesthesiologist and an orthopedic surgeon before our family physician suggested that I shadow one of his partners. It was that experience that set me on this path.

I was impressed that this family physician had patients who had been in his care for 30 years. He knew entire families and had a deep connection with the community. I spent time at that practice during my Christmas breaks and summer vacations, and it wasn't long before I realized, "This is who I am, and this is what I'm supposed to do."

Friday I got the good news that I had matched at the University of Alabama-Birmingham's Huntsville Family Medicine Residency. My classmates Libby Van Gerwen (who matched in internal medicine-primary care at Tulane University School of Medicine) and Brittany Holley (internal medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine) also had reason to celebrate.

One particular patient encounter stands out in my memory. The physician had to inform a woman that she had cancer, and it was inoperable. Despite the horrible news, he was reassuring and told her that she wouldn't leave that day without a plan. The level of trust she had was clear. She valued his opinion and wanted his advice. It was a defining moment for me.

Fast forward a few years to last Friday when I -- like thousands of other medical students around the country -- received my National Resident Matching Program letter. I had hoped to stay at the University of Alabama-Birmingham's Huntsville Family Medicine Residency. I've been here two years for
clinical training, and I wanted to stay here for residency. I know the faculty, the community and the hospital. It's a good school and a
good fit.

I felt good about my chances of staying, but you don't know where you're going until you open that envelope. It's a big moment after four years of medical school and four years of college. This is your career, the rest of your life.

Fortunately, I got the news I had hoped for, and I'll be staying in Huntsville. Nearly 10 percent of my class matched to family medicine, and news was good for our specialty nationally, as well. The number of medical students choosing family medicine increased for the fifth year in a row, and the number of U.S. seniors matched to family medicine also increased.

Although the numbers were encouraging, we have a long way to go. Our country is facing a shortage of primary care physicians. And it's projected that within a few years, we will be graduating more medical students than the number of residency spots available. The system clearly needs work.

One thing that would help would be having more family physicians such as the one I shadowed back in my hometown. If you're a family physician with a passion for what you do, reach out to students in your area or from your alma mater and show them what you do. You just might give a future family physician their defining moment.

Tate Hinkle is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Friday Feb 21, 2014

Building the Family Medicine Pipeline

When I was running for AAFP President-elect, I said during a question-and-answer session at the Congress of Delegates that I would try to say yes to every opportunity that came my way. This can be daunting because there are so many opportunities to represent the Academy each week.

However, being president truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I have tried hard to follow through on my promise. I do everything I can to jump at invitations from state chapters, to medical student functions and other opportunities to meet with AAFP members all over the map.

Family Medicine Interest Group advisers discuss ways to increase student interest in our specialty during a recent meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

I recently had one such opportunity on my way back from the Nevada AFP meeting. I was invited to stop in Nashville, Tenn., to be a part of a dynamic workshop for Family Medicine Interest Groups (FMIG) faculty advisers. This leadership summit was an opportunity to bring together medical school and residency faculty and staff from all over the country who serve in adviser or support roles to the student-run FMIGs at their own or an affiliated medical school. One of the most important reasons for doing so is to develop relationships and create a sense of family in this group.

There is a significant turnover in this group because the role of student group adviser often falls to the newest faculty member in a department. In fact, many of the folks present had been involved with their FMIG's for less than a year. This makes it important for us to bring people together so we have an exchange of information as well as support systems for this incredibly important work.

FMIG's are remarkable. There is a great deal of direct student leadership involved for each medical school's group, with a select group of medical students elected or appointed to serve in roles to connect and coordinate between FMIGs. The AAFP recently selected its 2014 FMIG Network Regional Coordinators, who hail from Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. These dedicated students work tirelessly to share information with FMIG student leaders at each institution and to provide opportunities for those leaders to connect and share best practices, much like what was done at the FMIG Faculty Adviser Summit.

The advisers all play different roles in this process, depending on their institution, environment and engagement of leaders. They have the responsibility for finding ways of sharing the excitement and passion for family medicine with students during their first two years of medical school, through the FMIG and other department efforts.

Most FMIG's are mainly made up of, and led by, first- and second-year students. Third-year students are on their clinical rotations and have less free time, and fourth-year students have often already committed to specialties. The group of advisers focused some of its discussion on how to keep third- and fourth-year students engaged in FMIGs to help support a family medicine specialty choice among the third-years and to use the fourth-years as mentors for the junior students.

This is a huge and critical aspect of addressing our pipeline challenge. The more we can tell medical students about the joys of family medicine, the more we may maintain their interest as they begin choosing specialties. In these challenging times, the message that our country truly needs primary care physicians is one that medical students need to hear, alongside the message of what's in it for them, which is the opportunity to have the greatest impact on population health and a specialty that provides variety, excitement and deep patient relationships.

This meeting allowed us to discuss the frustrations and the opportunities of a rapidly changing health care system and environment. I promised to take what I heard from the advisers back to the AAFP Board of Directors to help inform our deliberations related to developing our workforce pipeline.

I hope all of our active members work with medical students when given the opportunity. When students are early in their training, they are eager to see true patient encounters. At the same time, we have to recognize how impressionable students are. We need to make sure that our love of our patients and our thankfulness for the opportunities to answer our calling is what comes through. The more we do this, the more students will see that no other specialty creates the opportunities to get to know patients, make a difference and to truly impact families the way family medicine can.

Active AAFP members who would like to be connected with an FMIG faculty adviser at a medical school in their area may contact student interest strategist Ashley Bentley. Thanks for being a part of the learning process.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is President of the AAFP.

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