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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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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.