Our Country Is Hungry for the Message of Family Medicine
In one of my first blog posts as AAFP president, I mentioned that I have worn a lot of hats in my career. My roles as an associate residency program director, health care consultant, Pennsylvania physician general and health correspondent for my region's NBC affiliate were all built on my training as a family physician.
The broad spectrum of family medicine and the many roles I've played have served me well during my year as Academy president. In the past year, I've spent more than 200 days on the road, including many trips to Washington, D.C., and a dozen visits to our constituent chapters. I've met with governors, members of Congress, congressional staff, policymakers, payers, media, and lots and lots of family physicians and medical students.
Here I am discussing health care with host Joel Nichols on Kansas City Live, the morning show broadcast by Kansas City, Mo., NBC affiliate KSHB.
One of my first trips was to the Southern Governors' Association annual meeting Oct. 15-16 in St. Louis. The AAFP was also represented at the Western Governors' Association meeting. These events, which we had not attended previously, provided new opportunities to meet with state leaders and educate them about family medicine, why it matters and what our issues are. We informed them that having family physicians in communities improves the health of individuals, as well as that of the whole community, without increasing heath care costs. The same cannot be said of subspecialist care. That message was well received and has been repeated again and again.
In my travels, I also take every opportunity -- with help from our state chapters and medical schools -- to meet with medical students. Many of the issues they ask about -- work-life balance, direct primary care, salary, student debt and the role of primary care -- are the same regardless of school or region. It is fun to expand their horizons with real-life examples of family physicians who are using their broad, comprehensive training to do great and varied things. They learn that family medicine is "a pluripotential career."
The number of students matching into family medicine has increased seven years in a row, and family medicine has been the most recruited specialty for 10 years running. But this isn't just about volume. I tell students we want only the best and brightest in family medicine. Despite what they might hear in med school, family medicine is not a fallback position; we are too vital to the health care system to rely on people who are not enthusiastic and committed to joining us.
I tell students that family medicine is for physicians who are willing and able to care for more than one gender, age group, body part and organ system. We focus on people and relationships, and we are advocates for those people. Medical students are hearing that message, and others need to hear it, as well. The excitement of many medical students and family medicine residents is palpable and contagious. They know they are well-positioned in a health care system undergoing rapid change.
I recently traveled to Wisconsin, where I met with nearly 100 students from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. That trip, which I made at the request of the UW Department of Family Medicine and the Wisconsin AFP, was an opportunity to talk with key media outlets in that state about family medicine. For example, I had a conversation with Steve Walters from WisconsinEye's Newsmakers series about the importance of primary care. The state, like so many others, faces a dire need for more family physicians, general surgeons and general psychiatrists.
Being the Academy's spokesperson is one of the vital functions of being president of the organization because taking these messages to the media helps amplify our voice to patients, payers, policymakers and legislators. I have done multiple interviews virtually every day during the past year, leading to more than 2,300 outcomes, including articles in print and online media, blogs, radio broadcasts and television segments.
High-profile media outlets want to know the Academy's position on key health care issues. One of the biggest issues this year has been opioids, which I've discussed with Robert Siegel on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and with Mehmet Oz, M.D., on The Dr. Oz Show -- among many, many others.
There are those who would like to blame primary care for the opioid crisis because of the number of prescriptions we write. The reality is that family physicians conduct roughly one in five office visits, we are the first point of contact in the health care system for many patients, and we are the only point of contact for some in underserved areas. We also have patients return to us after being placed on these meds by our subspecialty colleagues.
The AAFP has formed a member advisory committee to address the multiple issues involved with opioids. The Academy has produced a toolkit, issued a call to action, is supporting the Surgeon General's Turn the Tide Rx initiative and offers abundant CME opportunities on the topic -- and we're not done yet.
This complex issue is a perfect showcase for our comprehensive, patient-centered care as we interface with the community, but opioids are just one example of a public health issue that the Academy is working on in a collaborative way. Many organizations and agencies are seeking our input, participation and leadership because our members are on the front line of health care.
Thank you for your support and the opportunity to represent you. It has been my privilege to be your voice and serve family medicine.
Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., is president of the AAFP. She will transition to the role of Board chair Sept. 21.
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