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Friday Oct 31, 2014

Initiatives Highlight Family Medicine as Top Choice for Students

When I decided during my undergraduate studies to go to medical school, I knew that I wanted to build relationships with patients, serve vulnerable populations and become a patient advocate. I never expected, though, to be where I am today, embarking on a year that will involve representing medical students across the country and working alongside people who have become some of my personal heroes. But as the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors, that's exactly what I'm doing.

As this new door opens, so does another: the Family Medicine for America's Health project and its recently launched, public-facing campaign, Health Is Primary. What a great and exciting time to be a future family physician!

 Here I am talking with former AAFP President Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., the board chair of Family Medicine for America's Health. Dr. Stream discussed Family Medicine for America's Health and the Health is Primary campaign with medical students Oct. 24 during AAFP Assembly in Washington.

Check out FMAHealth.org(fmahealth.org) for history and details on this game-changing project, which takes a comprehensive approach to setting family medicine on a track to lead health care transformation that will deliver value and improve the health of Americans.

I'm excited to see the contributions of my peers and colleagues in this project. This initiative wasn't the product of just a small group of disconnected decision-makers working behind closed doors. Medical students, residents and new physicians were involved at every step during the past year-and-a-half of the project's development. They contributed their visions of, and high expectations for, how patients are going to be better served by family physicians and our health care system moving forward. More importantly, patients were involved in this project, and their needs and expectations are being held in the highest regard (as they should be).

The project charges family medicine to lead the way to better care for patients, going beyond the practice of medicine to affect social determinants of health, public health efforts, population health efforts, community leadership and more.

I have struggled at times with what to tell my medical school colleagues about family medicine. I know why I'm choosing the specialty: I enjoy interacting with patients of all ages and engaging them in their health. I want to deliver babies, care for children, offer palliative care at the end of life, teach prevention, treat sports injuries and help my patients in every way that I can. But what has been harder for me to get across, at times, is why my peers should consider family medicine. Now, strengthened by this project, the reasons a future in family medicine looks so bright are more apparent than ever.

Here are a few:

  • Evidence shows family medicine is pivotal to reaching the triple aim of better care, better health outcomes and lower costs. Family physicians lead the way to more value and patient-centeredness in the health care system.
  • Family physicians are trained to practice a wide scope of medicine that is not limited by patient gender, age, health issue or organ system. As "comprehensivists," family physicians have the power to influence patients and populations in a way other specialties cannot. Family physicians are better equipped than any other specialists to manage complicated chronic illnesses, provide preventive care and, most importantly, deliver coordinated, continuing care to patients with whom they have a relationship. All of these things are shown to improve the value of care provided. 
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Acts calls for physician reimbursement to be tied to quality and care outcomes, rather than volume. The payment gap between primary care physicians and subspecialist physicians should narrow accordingly. 
  • Emerging practice models, including direct primary care, will focus on the patient and deliver higher-quality care at lower cost with less waste. 
  • The graduate medical education system needs to be reformed -- and is being challenged to do so by the AAFP and others -- to deliver the physician workforce our country needs. 
  • The patient-centered medical home model of care will continue to evolve as evidence directs the movement. 
  • Preventive and chronic care management will unseat acute care as the focus of the system.

I believe more than ever that family physicians are the right group to lead this charge. The mission of family medicine aligns seamlessly with the ideals of an optimal health care system that delivers on the triple aim.

A future in family medicine offers a chance to be part of much-needed change in health care delivery, to fix a broken system and, most importantly, to make the greatest impact on the health and wellness of patients.

To quote new AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., someone I am incredibly excited to learn from and work alongside this year, "Why are we the answer to health care delivery in this country? We are family physicians. Enough said."

Words cannot capture the complex, coexisting feelings of humility and pride I'm experiencing from being able to serve medical students, family physicians and patients this year on the Board and to call family medicine my specialty of choice. If you haven't been paying attention, now's the time to start. Stay tuned.

Kristina Zimmerman is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 07:10PM Oct 31, 2014 by Kristina Zimmerman

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