• Fresh Perspectives

    Don't Miss Your Opportunity to Lead

    A new crop of family medicine residents is beginning internship at programs across the country, and a new class of medical students won't be far behind.

    Leadership development. Line of wooden figurines with red one.

    Now starting my seventh year in practice, I am nearing the end of my time in the AAFP's new physician membership category. Although I will be matriculating out of this phase of my career at the end of the calendar year, I look forward to what lies ahead. I am happy about where I am and feel excited about where I'm going, despite not being certain about what the future holds.

    That's the fun of family medicine and exactly the reason I chose the specialty. I enjoy the daily variety and continual evolution that comes with primary care. There's no monotony. It's an increasingly rewarding path of progressive skill development, streamlined practice management and relationship building.

    I have worked for the same health care system since graduating residency. I collaborate with two nurse practitioners and one physician assistant, and I am engaged in three practice settings: primary care, nursing home care and addiction recovery. I also sit on the board of directors for the Missouri AFP and enjoy active involvement in the AAFP through lecturing, writing and advocacy.

    Advocacy is how I landed where I am today. It all started during training when an outgoing chief resident asked if I wanted to take his role as an alternate New York State AFP delegate for my hospital in the Bronx. I was surprised and honored. Immediately recognizing the value in the opportunity, I said yes. I enjoyed the experience of getting my feet wet without having too much responsibility. I watched and learned from the background, and a year later I became a delegate, which meant that I reported directly to the chapter board of directors.

    Another half a year went by, and another resident asked me if I would consider a national leadership role. The AAFP's alternate delegate to the AMA Resident & Fellow Section seat was open. I took a leap of faith and applied -- not feeling qualified or really knowing what I was getting into -- and the interview went well. To my surprise I was offered the role, and I decided to take the plunge.

    Soon, current students and residents will have opportunities to find their own place in family medicine leadership. Several positions will be voted on July 30-Aug. 1 during the virtual National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students.

    For me, becoming involved in advocacy and leadership roles offered benefits beyond policymaking: AAFP staff training, supportive environments, individual mentorship, and exposure to organizational leadership helped me connect and gain insight.

    The alternate delegate role led me to attending AMA and AAFP national meetings. Those opportunities introduced me to influential people in medicine and politics on the state and national level, including health care leaders. While attending National Conference in 2012, my wife and I met a recruiter from my current employer, which led us to the town we've now called home for seven years.

    I thrive on improving the health and well-being of patients I have come to know over months or years while treating their spouses and relatives and watching their children grow up. But advocacy gives me the opportunity to serve my patient population beyond clinical encounters.

    I enjoy small talk as much as I do the art and science of medicine. Through developing relationships, I have gained an understanding of the needs of patients in a rural community, and how health care initiatives can meet those needs and provide access to better care. I have also learned to identify which policies can create barriers that hinder positive outcomes.

    I truly love every aspect of family medicine practice and advocacy, which I believe must be combined to achieve medical progress and high-quality health care. Whether advocating for a patient in the exam room or the board room, it starts with understanding the people we are called to serve.

    I've learned there is an art to each family physician's practice style and how we develop relationships. Most patients will adapt and grow with you, but some may choose another clinician. Trust and respect come with time and bring with them the ability to influence patients to make a lifetime of healthier choices.

    I love being a family doctor while I raise a family of my own. These years have taught me to organize and rearrange my time to allow me to give patients my best through a busy work schedule, while still making it to my children's soccer games. It's a daily balancing act, but in family medicine, it is possible.

    My advice, when it comes to advocacy, Academy involvement and choosing a practice model, is to make sure there is adequate time for friends and family, but follow your interests while also taking on opportunities that stretch you and take you places you could not have foreseen or planned.

    Kurt Bravata, M.D., is a family physician who practices primary care, geriatric medicine and addiction recovery in rural southwest Missouri.

    Read other posts by this blogger.


    The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.