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Wednesday Jun 19, 2019

Mentoring Is Key to Expanding Primary Care Pipeline

Have you thought lately about where our future family medicine colleagues will come from? Who will be their mentors? Could it be you?

Here I am (second row, far right) with this year's Primary Care Scholars. Each year, dozens of premedical students from Pennsylvania colleges participate in this Penn State University College of Medicine program.

That first question is why the 25 x 2030 Student Choice Collaborative was born. It's an ambitious project with the goal of attracting 25% of U.S. medical school graduates to choose a career in family medicine by the year 2030.

What are we doing to achieve this? Among other programs, the AAFP has developed outstanding online resources and holds a successful, annual National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, as well as supporting Family Medicine Interest Groups at medical schools across the country. The AAFP Foundation,(www.aafpfoundation.org) the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine(www.stfm.org) and AAFP chapters are also active in providing scholarships and programs.

Many family physicians who teach are working with these programs and find it extremely rewarding. But if you are not, or if you want to expand your involvement, what can you do?

I have been in practice for more than 30 years, which has given me the opportunity to have many conversations about career choice with children and teenagers in my practice. These conversations have sometimes provided a springboard to a discussion of medicine and family medicine and why, despite practice challenges we often face, I love being a family doctor.

Sometimes it makes a difference. And, for the purposes of this blog, I asked a few physicians whom I mentored to share their experiences.

"Our family physician, Dr. G, was my first physician role model and his genuine joy in caring for patients largely influenced my decision to become a family medicine physician," Elizabeth Nguyen, M.D., a family physician who is associate quality and improvement director at AHS Family Health Center and clinical assistant professor at the University of Chicago, said about growing up in my practice. "Before I even understood what specialties were, I envisioned myself becoming a doctor like my family physician, someone who was able to provide compassionate continuity of care for all members of my family.

"Once Dr. G was aware I was interested in a career in medicine, he was supportive in arranging shadowing experiences with his colleagues and provided continuous mentorship as I progressed through my education and training. As family physicians, we have the unique opportunity to expose young patients to our specialty and promote family medicine as a career as our patients become young adults."

There are also more precepting opportunities for students than ever before. Have you volunteered to take a student in your office for shadowing or more formal teaching? My medical school works with preceptors in the placement of students for many clinical experiences, including family medicine. Colleges and university premedical advisors are looking for precepting experiences for their students also, and often have difficulty finding enough physicians and practices. Some hospital systems and even high schools are also looking for volunteers.

This can make a difference, too.

"I was fortunate to shadow Dr. Gingrich for a five-month period during my senior year of high school for the last two periods of my school day," said Clayton Cooper, M.D., M.B.A., a resident at the Duke University School of Medicine Family Medicine Residency program. "Through seeing acute care and chronic disease management of patients of all ages, I experienced the scope of practice of family medicine. I was able to see patients across multiple visits. This experience taught me the value of continuity of care as well as the complexities and rewards of a career in family medicine. I started college not only with my sights on medical school, but on becoming a family physician."

There also are opportunities to work with premedical college students. For that reason, my Penn State University College of Medicine colleagues and I have been offering dedicated premedical programming to students from colleges and universities across our state for more than 25 years. Over the years, more than 1,000 students have participated.

The design we have constructed works through relationships with premedical advisors, who partner in selecting participants and in promoting programs. The programs emphasize the wide scope of practice of primary care, and offer opportunities for contact with family physicians, residents and students. They likely could be replicated at other institutions.

"This two-week-long program, including time spent talking with faculty and students as well as shadowing a family physician, really shaped my perspective in regard to the societal need for primary care and the incredible diversity that a career in family medicine offers," said Matthew Silvis, M.D., vice chair for clinical affairs at the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State, who participated in these programs as a premedical student. "Honestly, the Primary Care Scholars Program(pennstatehealthnews.org) impacted my decision to enter into medicine more than any other formative experience prior to medical school, and I've never looked back!"

(Dr. Silvis, by the way, is now a presenter for the students in the premedical program, which is codirected by Andrew Lutzkanin, M.D., a former medical student advisee of mine.)

The 25 x 2030 initiative brings the family medicine community together with a singular goal to achieve the family physician workforce needed to care for our communities. To make this ambitious project a success, we will all need to roll up our sleeves and work together imaginatively. We don't need to recruit so much as show who we are and the impact of what we do to students who have not yet experienced it, and provide encouragement.

If you are already involved, thank you. If you are not, or if you just want to increase your involvement, please step up and find your way to supplement the work already being done to help achieve our goals, and talk to your colleagues about this important investment in our future.

If you're not sure where to start, contact the AAFP, your chapter, your alma mater or a local college or high school, and talk with younger patients in your practice. It's a worthwhile investment for our next generation of colleagues, for the future of family medicine, and for the health of our communities and our society.

If you're connected with a current medical student, encourage them to attend the AAFP's National Conference. Registration is still open for this year's event July 25-27 in Kansas City, Mo.

Dennis Gingrich, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 02:01PM Jun 19, 2019 by Dennis Gingrich, M.D.

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