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Tuesday Oct 01, 2013

National Event Can Open Students' Eyes to What Primary Care Is Really About

I came to medical school knowing that I would become a family physician. That goal was driven, in part, by the diversity and complexity of the work family physicians do, caring for patients from birth to end of life. I want to take that comprehensive approach back to rural Alabama, where I'm from, and family medicine is the specialty that allows me to do that.

The choice isn't as clear for many medical students, who often aren't exposed to primary care in their first two years because family medicine and other primary care faculty are underrepresented in most medical schools during the preclinical years.

So, how do we get students more -- and earlier -- exposure to primary care and family medicine?

Next week offers one opportunity to do just that. National Primary Care Week will be celebrated at medical school campuses around the country Oct. 7-11, giving students an opportunity to learn about, and experience, primary care. It's also an opportunity to highlight primary care physicians in leadership positions. For example, family physician and State Health Commissioner Cynthia Romero, M.D. -- pictured here with family medicine interest group leader Penelope Carter -- was the keynote speaker at the University of Virginia School of Medicine's Primary Care Week last month. (UVA celebrated a bit early).

During my second year at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, I was responsible for planning National Primary Care Week activities on our campus. Each day, we brought in a speaker from a different primary care specialty -- family medicine, internal medicine, OB/Gyn and pediatrics -- who talked about why primary care is the foundation of patient-centered care and how each specialty plays an important role.

There is a myth perpetuated in some academic settings that family physicians treat coughs and colds and refer everything else, but family physicians do so much more than most students realize. It's a powerful experience to have a physician from the community come to campus and describe a typical day in practice, which could include seeing patients in clinic, making hospital rounds, doing procedures, delivering babies and practicing broad-scope primary care.

Although I knew about that extensive scope of practice early on, I had numerous students come to me throughout the week, saying, "I didn't know this about family medicine," or, "I didn't know that about internal medicine."

The upcoming nationwide event has the potential to open students' eyes to what primary care really is about and what it looks like outside of an academic medical center.

So what's on tap for this year's National Primary Care Week? We've heard from family medicine interest groups around the country, and some obvious themes stand out. Students want more information about health care reform, and several schools are featuring speakers or panels that will look at how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will affect primary care. Academy resources available for National Primary Care Week include a PowerPoint presentation with facts and analysis of the Affordable Care Act.

The AAFP also has presentation materials designed to educate students about the patient-centered medical home, which is another common topic for National Primary Care Week activities.

Team-based care and interdisciplinary panels also appear to be popular choices. Other intriguing offerings include residency fairs, flu-shot clinics and clinical skills workshops.

I encourage my fellow medical students to seek out activities on your campus during National Primary Care Week (and bring a friend) and throughout the year. Your colleagues have worked hard to design programming that will give you key insights and understanding you will need to make an informed specialty choice within the next few years. Regardless of whether you choose family medicine like me, we're all going to be working together in an evolving health care system characterized by an increasing demand for family physicians to carry us to better patient health outcomes, better patient experience of care and lower health care costs.

So, what is your medical school doing?

Tate Hinkle is the student 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.