September 25, 2019 12:59 pm Sheri Porter – Gary LeRoy, M.D., the AAFP's newly installed president, brings to this leadership role a wealth of experience caring for underserved patients in Dayton, Ohio.
This summer, AAFP News spent a couple of days with LeRoy in a visit that highlighted just how much the people in his community rely on him and his clinic for their health care needs. As patient after patient came through the doors -- each requiring extended time and medical expertise -- LeRoy's compassion seemed to swell even as their need deepened.
You see, his patients are like family, and it shows in the dignity, respect and love he bestows on each and every one.
And at the end of one very long day at the clinic, LeRoy didn't head for home. Instead, he drove to a nearby community kitchen where he slipped on an apron and set to work helping serve a hot meal to hungry men and women, most with children in tow.
LeRoy is the face of family medicine in this tidy Midwestern city. And in the midst of all his various jobs and duties, he made some time to sit down with AAFP News and chat about what brought him to the top leadership position at the AAFP and how he'll handle the coming 12 busy months.
Q. What's the biggest issue facing family medicine today?
A. It's letting people outside of our specialty of family medicine define us. We must not accept the term "provider." We did not go to provider school. We went to medical school. We chose the specialty of family medicine. We should be bold in explaining what we do and outlining the skills required to provide comprehensive care to our patients. As family physicians, we bring great value to our respective communities, and that's a fact that shouldn't be buried or belittled. Research has shown that when one family physician leaves a community, emergency room visits increase. Morbidity and mortality rise. It takes about $1.2 million to replace one family physician.
Q. Why did you want to be the AAFP president?
A. It's all about being a servant leader to an organization that I feel is of great value to me, our members and the communities we serve. I wanted to be part of that in some way, shape or form. Circumstance and fate combined forces to bring me to this moment, and it's my duty to step up and lead because members chose me to do so.
Q. What are the greatest strengths you bring to this role?
A. I bring diverse life experiences to this position. I come to the presidency having spent more than 27 years caring for patients and filling their primary care needs in a community health center in Dayton, Ohio.
I was part of a team that took a 5,000-square-foot storefront clinic in the inner city and doubled the size as we transitioned to a federally qualified health center -- quite an upgrade for a former community grocery store. The meat locker still stood in the rear of the structure prior to its renovation as a reminder of the building's past.
Along the way, I've had various vantage points from which to observe the growth of the medical community here, including working with our local hospice organization. Since 2008, I've served as associate dean of student affairs and admissions at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and have been president of both the Dayton Foundation and the Dayton and Montgomery County Board of Public Health.
I have made a commitment to stay in the community and continue to be a family physician in real time, not just talk about it in the past tense.
Q. Social determinants of health have taken center stage in medicine today. How will your experience caring for underserved patients all these years help guide AAFP efforts in this area?
A. Social determinants of health have always been a concern, but we've just recently put a label on the problem. If I'm prescribing a medication that requires refrigeration, I'm assuming that the patient has a refrigerator. Similarly, if I'm a giving a referral to a patient that requires a trip across the city, I'm assuming that patient has transportation to get there.
As we've learned from the Academy's The EveryOne Project, it's important to ask the right questions before proposing a treatment plan for a patient. I understand that because I've lived it with my patients.
Q. What do you love most about family medicine?
A. I love going home at the end the day feeling as though I'm a better person because I've served others throughout that day. I'm happiest knowing that I'm doing something of great value for my community. Family physicians are the heroes and "she-roes" of medicine.
Q. Do you have a personal "hot button" issue that you'd like to address in the next 12 months?
A. I want to see electronic health records become less cumbersome. I want them to work for family physicians instead of the other way around. EHRs are still evolving, and physicians need to have a voice in how to make them work efficiently in our practices. Too often, it's nonphysician IT experts who are building systems they think will work for us based on the work they think we do. If I can ask Apple's Siri to turn on my living room lights, why can't I ask my electronic health record to put the appropriate data into my patient's chart?
Q. What do members tell you they are stressed about?
A. Family physicians are concerned about how politics have elbowed their way into the health care arena and are interfering with how we practice medicine. That's why AAFP leaders spend a lot of time in Washington sharing family physicians' stories with legislators who often don't understand that a regulation that works well in Utah might not play well in New Hampshire, or a policy that benefits physicians employed by a health care system may be disastrous for solo and independent family physicians.
Q. As you travel around the country visiting AAFP chapters and attending meetings, what questions do family physicians most frequently ask you?
A. Members want to know how much time I spend traveling on behalf of the AAFP. As president-elect it's about 200 days out of the year, and as president that number can grow to as many as 250 days. Family physicians are stunned by the amount of travel these leadership roles demand.
Next, they ask me if I still have a clinical practice. And yes, of course I do. It would be easier to suspend my clinical practice amid all the work I do for the community, the medical school and the Academy. But I refuse to give up patient care, because it brings me the greatest joy.
Q. Is there anything about today's health care system that keeps you awake at night?
A. Certainly. Physicians are drowning in digital data, and it's causing burnout because we can't escape from the constant barrage of information. A redesign of EHRs will provide some level of relief.
Q. What can the AAFP do to recruit more medical students to family medicine?
A. As family physicians, we need to share our personal stories with medical students. We have to show them the difference between our specialty and all the others by letting them see family medicine up close and personal in our clinics and our exam rooms.
Q. What's the best part about interacting with medical students?
A. A few years back, I was walking out of a building on campus at the end of the day, and there was a student sitting out in the lobby. I said, "Hey, how are you doing?" And he looked up from his book and said, "Living the dream, Dr. LeRoy, living the dream." And that's what I love about medical students. I love their enthusiasm.
And they keep me honest and focused on the personal statement I wrote way back when I applied to medical school. I carried that statement in my briefcase for nearly 20 years. And you know, the words I wrote down all those years ago aren't that much different from the student statements I read today. Today's students want to be doctors because they want to make a difference in the lives of patients and they want to be leaders in health care.
In fact, they may not know it yet, but what they're really saying is they want to be family doctors.