This was successfully posted to your pofile.
This box will close automatically in a few seconds. Close this window
We don't have an e-mail address on file for you. To use AAFP Connection, you must have an e-mail address in our records. Click Here
2013 FPOY Works Hard to Lift Up Those Around Him
The AAFP's 2013 Family Physician of the Year, Thomas Albani Jr., M.D., (left) has a strong rapport with his
patients who have turned to him for help in economically hard times.
"I wish I could just clone him," says Amanda Mesmer, executive director of Access Health Mahoning Valley, a network of providers that Albani helped create and that treats patients who are uninsured or underinsured.
The Youngstown, Ohio, area, where Albani practices, has been hit particularly hard by the economic recession. In response, Albani has consistently reached out to his community to provide help.
In 2008, Albani helped start the Midlothian Free Health Clinic and serves as its medical director. The clinic is run by volunteers who see patients two Thursday evenings each month.
Not only does Albani have strong ties to his community, he has strong family ties, as well, and he is particularly proud of his five children.
Although dedicated to his family and his community, Albani does find time to take an occasional break.
For almost 30 years, Albani has been doing just that for his patients, his medical students and an economically hard-hit community.
Caring for Families
"We don't know what we would do without Dr. Albani," Sacui says.
Sacui, her husband and her four children have seen Albani for the past 20 years. He's helped her through the diagnosis and management of multiple sclerosis, her husband's heart attacks, her mother's ailing health and death, and life with teenagers.
Not long after Sacui was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Albani recommended a family meeting in his office. "He said, 'You tell me when; I want the whole crew here,'" Sacui recalls. "There we sat. All six of us in the room."
During this meeting, Albani shared information with Sacui's children about her condition and helped the family come up with a plan so that everyone's needs were addressed. "He knew that my disease was affecting them," says Sacui. "You could tell he was watching each of the kids to see their responses, to see if they might need help."
These family meetings are routine in Albani's practice. He schedules them often for patients facing new diagnoses, terminal illnesses or addictions, and for families that are grieving, according to Sacui. He'll even rearrange his schedule to accommodate last-minute meetings and busy family members.
The meetings are time-consuming and rarely reimbursable, but they are central to his care philosophy.
"I feel very strongly that patients are not coming in just to get medications," Albani says. "They want to know what's wrong with them. They want to know how they can make it better. We're here to educate and to walk people through some very difficult times in their lives. It's a very big privilege."
The Albani Family Meeting
"It turns your whole world upside down," Albani says. It was hard to explain what was happening to his oldest son who was sick, his other children, his wife and his own parents. "Everything I told my patients, it came into play. I felt like I was on target with what I was telling patients," he says.
More than ever, Albani appreciated the simple things people did to lift his spirits, including by providing encouraging words, cards and shoulders to lean on. "I never understood just how much that would touch you when things were rock-bottom," he says.
Today his son is in remission and doing well. "As horrifying as it was, you learn from it. This helped me understand the impact I can have."
Meeting the Needs of the Community
"Youngstown has been hit disproportionately hard with unemployment. There's been a very strong need for this," says Albani. Clinic physicians and volunteer specialists have been able to treat those with complicated medical conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, "There have been a number of lives saved, not because we do anything magical or special, but just because we're there," he says.
Because the demand for care has been so great, Albani helped launch a new assistance program called Access Health Mahoning Valley, a network of providers who treat those who are uninsured or underinsured.
As a member of the board of directors, Albani recruits fellow physicians to volunteer for Access Health, says Amanda Mesmer, executive director of the organization. To recruit physicians, he has invited Mesmer to speak at the Mahoning Valley Medical Society, where he is president. He also sees Access Health patients at the free clinic when space allows.
"He's a really good role model," Mesmer says. "I say all the time that I wish I could just clone him."
Albani's work doesn't stop with patients. He's also committed to training the next generation of family physicians. He's a faculty member at Northeast Ohio Medical University and a volunteer faculty member at St. Elizabeth Hospital Family Medicine Residency.
Although he teaches the fundamentals of family medicine, he's also hoping his students walk away with the right priorities, including lifting up other people. Health care has seen a lot of changes -- increased red tape and government and insurance company involvement, says Albani. "If you focus on the patient and forget all that other stuff, you'll find yourself very, very happy practicing medicine. Your patients will be better off, too."
2013 FPOY Brings Care to Those in Need