• Welcome to Family Medicine; the AAFP Is Here to Help

    When I got the call, I was working my shift in the emergency room and I had to quickly figure out a way to duck out discreetly. Luckily, my shift had been stimulating -- I remember a satisfying three-liter paracentesis that day -- but with a manageable trickle of cases. I darted through the ambulance bay doors and tucked myself behind a loading dock as my new ersatz office. Thus, I began contract negotiations for my first post-residency job.

    Looking to the AAFP for contract guidance was a new way to use my Academy membership as I transitioned from resident to new physician. It reflected a pattern I would notice with an increasing number of years under my belt. As my career needs evolved, the resources I needed changed with my professional goals. More often than not, I could find those resources through the AAFP. The Academy has kept up with the turns in my career, serving as a resource I depend on as a new physician.

    When we begin our training, our primary concern is necessarily our formation -- the process of making our chosen identity of family physician fit comfortably. In short order, we must acquire the skills and knowledge to capably handle the scope of care that family physicians give our patients. The AAFP's Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics (ALSO) course was a terrific confidence booster when I was expected to carry more responsibility on labor and delivery. The Board Review questions helped me prepare for certification by letting me pick away at exam content during random quiet hours during call. (Sorry, I said the "Q" word!)

    A challenge for me following residency was comprehending my new professional needs and developing the wherewithal to address those needs. Not only did I need to be up to date on medical knowledge, I also needed to know how to transact in the medical world. This included many topics that were rarely covered in my residency. Contract negotiation was just the first of the new skill sets I would need. Another example was having a system to track my CME for maintenance of my board certification, unique requirements for state licensure, and my study of specialized content to maintain my HIV specialist designation; thankfully, AAFP has a great tool that does all of that.

    However, the biggest transition after graduation from residency was realizing that for one of the first times in my life, I no longer had a formalized support structure. In the beginning of life, it was my parents and family, with the gradual addition of friends, teachers and mentors from grade school to medical school. Residency marked the last time someone was assigned to monitor my self-actualization, to help me be the best physician I could be for patients.

    As an employed physician, the health system I worked in was invested in my development -- but this employer was interested in helping its physicians become doctors in its image -- efficient doctors for the system, but not necessarily better family physicians. It turned out pediatrics was not as well integrated as I had been told; family visits, gynecologic care and hospital rounding were discouraged in my clinic; and it was encouraged to manage simple procedures like joint injections or implantable contraception as referrals to other specialties. What do you do when you find out your new boss doesn't get family medicine?

    Fortunately, my clinic had like-minded family medicine advocates who wanted to change the culture. I also found like-minded advocates and great friends at the AAFP's National Conference of Constituency Leaders (NCCL), an energizing gathering of family physicians from groups traditionally underrepresented in Academy leadership (new physicians; women; minorities; international medical graduates; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender physicians) who convene to take a leadership role in advocating for new Academy policy and become part of the pipeline for future family medicine leaders. It was at NCCL that I began to learn how I could be a leader in my organization.

    Experiences like NCCL helped me understand that the AAFP offered a great, intangible value in addition to the numerous member benefits. The Academy is the support structure in my adult professional life that helps me keep my career path on a forward trajectory.

    In fact, the AAFP offers an astonishing number of member benefits that help our day-to-day doctoring lives by delivering great value. Amid the confusing and contradictory jumble of constantly updated information from different sources, the clarity of the AAFP COVID-19 resources are invaluable. The recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis underscores the importance of The EveryONE Project for addressing health equity and implicit bias so we can fulfill our Academy's vision of achieving optimal health for everyone. And in the stress of the pandemic and recession, the Physician Health First initiative makes it easier to attend to our own wellness.

    Yet, to me, the greatest value of my membership is how it makes me a better family physician.

    What value can you place on fellowship and mentorship? What value can you place on the opportunities the Academy offers for a lifetime of professional growth? What value can you place on the work the AAFP does to help the public understand our value in improving the health of our patients and communities?

    Being an AAFP member means not just having access to resources and benefits, it means being part of a shared vision of what family physicians can do for the world.

    To the family physicians completing their training, congratulations on this milestone. This year we celebrate in non-traditional ways, but in these strange times, those celebrations mean more than ever: The world needs you. Now is a good time to dust off your medical school personal statement, because your medical practice is now wholly yours -- you can be that person you wrote about.

    If you are a recent family medicine residency graduate (or will be soon), you are helping make our specialty even stronger. Family medicine and the AAFP are thrilled to have you as a family doctor. Watch your mailbox this week for a welcome packet from the Academy.

    Where do you want your career to go? The AAFP can help you along the way.

    Brent Sugimoto, M.D., M.P.H., A.A.H.I.V.S., is the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @BrenticusMD.


    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.