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Thursday Feb 06, 2014

Dedication to Lifelong Learning Reflects Specialty's Heritage

I recently attended a meeting of the Family Medicine Working Party, which is a convocation of the seven organizations that represent our specialty.

These groups are led by outstanding family physician volunteer leaders, and these biannual meetings allow these leaders to ensure each organization is aware of what the others are doing. Often, a focus area for one group affects the other groups as well. Even if our initiatives don't directly overlap, it is important to hear updates about what is happening.

It also is a great opportunity to talk about some of the remarkable things that we see in family medicine. I was particularly inspired by a story from James Puffer, M.D., the president and CEO of the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). One topic that we routinely review with the ABFM is the process of maintenance of certification, and the exam all diplomates are required to take. This conversation allowed us to review the commitment to lifelong learning that has exemplified family medicine.

It is important to recognize that when family medicine began as a specialty, we were the first and only specialty that challenged our members to continue to recertify. Other medical specialty organizations had lifelong certifications in place that allowed a physician to take one exam, one time. Our specialty's founding fathers knew that lifelong learning was a critical aspect, and that certifying only one time would not guarantee that a physician was at the top of his or her game throughout his or her career. We now have data showing that recertification maintains a knowledge base over time, whereas taking a single exam one time allows a person's knowledge base to decline.

However, the inspirational part of this story has to do with a group of family physicians who continue to recertify well into their 80s and even 90s. In fact, the oldest family physician who recently sat for the recertification exam was 93. Puffer personally calls all of these physicians to let them know their scores and to ask an important question. He was especially pleased to call the 93-year-old physician to inform him that he had indeed passed. Puffer asked the man if he was still practicing. The family physician replied that he had not practiced for many years. So, Puffer asked why he was recertifying. This member said that he could not imagine letting his certification lapse. He has always been board-certified, he said, and he always would be.

I think this comment is a testament to something unique about family physicians. This is a dedication to true lifelong learning. This member is going to continue to challenge himself to learn more about his craft even though he is no longer practicing. It also speaks to the pride and work ethic of this member that I think exemplifies family physicians. We recognize that board certification means something. We recognize that in family medicine, we have made a commitment to continue to challenge ourselves to be the best that we can be in order to give the best possible care to our patients.

This kind of story challenges me to continue to do everything I can to help our organization be the best that it can be so it can serve members like this extraordinary family physician in the way they deserve. I hope that I, too, am continuing to recertify until it is time for me to go to my next great adventure.

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.