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Tuesday Nov 19, 2013

Center Provides Important Lesson on Where We Came From

"History is who we are and why we are the way we are." -- Author and historian David McCullough

A placard bearing that quote from McCullough, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, caught my eye during my first trip to the Center for the History of Family Medicine. I recently attended my first meeting of the Center's Board of Curators as a liaison from the AAFP Board of Directors. Although I have been actively engaged in our Academy for nearly 30 years, I am sorry to admit that I was not aware of the wonderful resources available through the Center.

I am proud of our specialty and our heritage, and the Center is home to thousands of books, articles and artifacts that track our history. This wonderful combination of library, archives and museum is available as a resource for members wishing to learn more about our roots.

Some of our more experienced members might find the Center's resources interesting because those books, articles and artifacts document something they experienced. For our younger members, the Center offers insight into where we came from.

Our specialty is a relatively new one. Family medicine officially became a medical specialty in 1969 (not long after this photo from the Center's archives was taken at the 1968 Congress of Delegates). At the time, the number of physicians entering what had been regarded as general practice was dwindling rapidly. Specialization, on the other hand, was viewed as important and valuable.

Our leaders understood the role of specialists, but they also believed in the importance of primary care, building relationships with patients and tying it all together rather than having a system of highly fragmented care. Family medicine leaders were courageous and worked for what they believed in, despite opposition from many in the medical establishment who opposed the idea of family medicine as a specialty.

Today, the mentality to speak out for our patients, practices and family medicine continues to be important in the face of new -- and old -- challenges in health care. It's something in the DNA of our specialty and something we can't afford to lose.

I encourage you to become more acquainted with our history, and you can do this easily by exploring the Center's online resources. In particular, I suggest you look through the Classics of Family Medicine, a list of seminal articles from the medical literature that have helped shape our specialty. Likewise, I suggest you explore our online exhibits, where, among other exhibits, you will find the "Distinguished Dozen: Twelve Books That Shaped the Face of Family Medicine."

For those interested in spending time in the Center to perform research leading to a publishable article or book, there is an annual fellowship available from the AAFP Foundation.

Remembering where we came from can help us find our way in the future. As McCullough said, "History is a guide to navigation in perilous times."

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

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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.