Wednesday May 09, 2012

Students, Residents: Stand Up and Make a Difference for Family Medicine

Did you know that people in power, including our country's leaders, are talking about family medicine with knowledge and respect? Even more importantly, they are asking for our opinions. I experienced this first-hand during recent meetings with members of Congress and congressional staffers where I advocated for family medicine regarding the sustainable growth rate formula and funding for graduate medical education.

People finally are recognizing that primary care has to be the foundation of an improved health care system in this country, and primary care is family medicine.

Advocating for family medicine, however, is not a role just for the elected leaders of the AAFP. Everyone can play a role, particularly medical students and residents because you are our future. Each of you can take part in the discussion that is developing about the future of health care. The resulting decisions will affect how you practice medicine, regardless of specialty, and how your patients receive care.

Advocacy is not a routine part of medical school or residency training, yet one of the most important duties of a physician is to advocate. You are an advocate for your patients, your practice, your community, and your specialty. It is critical that as an advocate you are informed and active. It's never too early to get involved. Now is the time for you to find a way to be connected on a regular basis. Happily, there are many ways for you to do just that.

I encourage you to come to the National Conference  of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students. This event, scheduled for July 26-28 in Kansas City, Mo., is one of the Academy's three annual leadership events. Contact your chapter for information about representing your state as a delegate to either the student or resident congress. Delegates play an important role in writing resolutions and debating those resolutions during the student and resident congresses. Some resolutions go on to be considered by the AAFP Congress of Delegates, the Board of Directors or the Academy's commissions.

National Conference also is the venue for elections for student and resident leaders. The Academy selects representatives from both groups to serve on all of its commissions (including governmental advocacy) and the Board of Directors. Jessica Johnson, who will graduate this weekend from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and Brent Smith, M.D., a third-year resident at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, are your elected Board members.

Students and residents also can make a difference through Speak Out. This resource connects you with your elected representatives in Washington. Draft letters on critical issues -- such as physician payment -- are available for you to review, edit and send to your lawmakers, and it only takes a few minutes.

This blog is another resource that can help you stay connected. Here you can meet your AAFP leaders and learn about the Academy's priorities. Please reach out to us. Family physicians love to connect people. It is something that we do well, beginning with our patients and their families, and extending to our network of providers in our patient-centered medical homes. We know how to share information and coordinate effort. We can tell a good story that captivates an audience. Now that audience includes legislators and Congressional committees.

This website has some outstanding advocacy tools. There are links to our medical student section, our resident section, and the Family Medicine Interest Group, which includes a toolkit for advocacy.

The Academy also is using resources that students and residents have been tapping into for a long time. We are on Facebook and our medical student page is dynamic and interactive.

You can find almost all members of the AAFP Board of Directors on Twitter as a result of our students, residents, and special constituencies asking us to add it to our repertoire. I encourage you to follow AAFP President Glen Steam, M.D., M.B.I., on Twitter @aafpprez  or Facebook to keep on top of our advocacy efforts in real time.

This is the best time to be a family physician. Advocating for our patients and principles and connecting through social media will allow us to change the world. Link up, speak up and Speak Out!

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., of Kingsport, Tenn., is a third-year member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

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