Family physicians are taught to practice the art and science of medicine by caring for patients, their families and communities while fostering trusting relationships. As I consider the current landscape of family medicine, as well as its future direction, I keep coming back to a single question: How do we, especially with our most disadvantaged populations, respond to the unique medical needs of each patient as well as to the socioeconomic, lifestyle and psychosocial context in which they exist? That is, how do we help ensure that we adequately respond to the whole patient in the most vulnerable of populations, effectively incorporating the social determinants of health into a care visit that is rapidly becoming both shorter and increasingly saturated with tasks.
The answer lies in the efforts of family physicians to advocate for our patients and specialty outside of the examination room.
I have been involved in state and national advocacy efforts since I was an undergraduate student. Medical students and family medicine residents are strongly encouraged to take a leap of faith and get involved with their state academy and/or the AAFP. In fact, AAFP resident and student leadership positions for the 2021-2022 academic year are open for applications now.
I have been committed to representing the breadth of family medicine since I was a first-year medical student serving as president of our family medicine interest group at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. I first explored leadership and advocacy on a whim after hearing more about how I could get involved during a free pizza party offered by the Ohio AFP. A couple of weeks later, I attended my first OAFP meeting and eventually applied for and served as the medical student member on the chapter’s Board of Directors. My experience and involvement with the OAFP led me to connect with mentors who inspired me to become involved with the AAFP.
Thanks to a generous scholarship from my now mentor and friend in the OAFP, Sarah Sams, M.D., I attended my first AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students during the summer between my first and second year of medical school, and have attended every year since then; I will be there (virtually) this summer.
Watching student and resident chairs champion family medicine during that first conference I found my home in our specialty. One year later at this conference I accepted a Program of Excellence Award for our FMIG.
It also was at National Conference that I served as an alternate student delegate to the OAFP in the student congress, where I co-authored a resolution and testified in support in front of a reference committee, where I served as a chair of a reference committee. Although I did not have any prior experience or expertise, I decided to go for it when the opportunity presented itself.
It also was during National Conference that my passion for state and national leadership was born. I was elected medical student delegate to the Congress of Delegates. Before that, I was appointed medical student delegate to the AMA Medical Student Section and the House of Delegates, a position that helped me gain invaluable leadership experience working side by side with my peers and the AAFP executive leadership team.
My exposure to health care policy in these student leadership positions and my decision to go into family medicine offered the perfect mix of medicine and advocacy. During the stress of my medical school and United States Medical Licensing Examination exams, my involvement with the OAFP and AAFP was exactly what I needed to get me through medical school with the ultimate goal of advocating for my patients in clear view.
This involvement with my community on a local, state and national level invigorated me to continue advocating for my future patients and specialty as a member of the California AFP after I moved for residency. I had the pleasure of being elected to serve as the resident chair of the 2019 National Conference, where it was my goal to urge both medical students and residents to be more involved in the resolution writing process and Congress activities. Fortunately, the AAFP has implemented a seamless process for those both with and without experience to get involved and make the most out of the experience.
In my final year of residency, I was fortunate to be elected to serve as the resident member on the AAFP’s Board of Directors. This has been my most time-consuming position I have had — but also the most rewarding. I have worked with the most passionate, knowledgeable and hardworking group of family physicians from diverse experiences and careers. My perspective as a resident has been welcomed and sought out by the Board and AAFP staff while serving in this capacity. I am honored to be involved in guiding the direction the AAFP will take in health policy and advocacy.
During my job search, I was pleasantly surprised by all the connections that I had made as a direct result of my involvement in the OAFP, CAFP and AAFP. I had not realized what a small world our specialty really is, and there were several interviews in which the individuals interviewing me knew so much about me because they had followed my leadership trajectory. In fact, I was sure that my new workplace was the best fit for me because of its commitment to supporting me in whatever leadership roles I pursue both within that company and beyond. I did not expect to receive so much in return for my service to my state and national academies.
Being on the front lines of primary care as an undergraduate student, graduate student, medical student and now family medicine resident, I am inspired by my patients to be involved on a state and national level with advocacy via the CAFP and AAFP. This two-pronged approach is how I see my career moving forward, working both on a clinical level, but also continuing my advocacy and activism on an institutional level.
I look forward to continuing my work in health policy leadership and advocacy after residency by attending the National Conference of Constituency Leaders — the AAFP’s leadership development event for women; minorities; new physicians; international medical graduates; and LGBT physicians and physician allies — and staying involved in whatever capacity I can.
Taking a leap of faith many years ago led me to have a rich and fulfilling experience with the AAFP and my state academies. If you’ve thought about getting involved and shaping the future of family medicine, now is your time to go for it!
The AAFP has a plethora of leadership opportunities for students and residents. Many positions will be decided during National Conference, but the time to start preparing is now because the deadline for submission of candidate materials for elected positions is July 21. You can find information about requirements, eligibility and application tips online.
Anna Askari, M.D., M.S.B.S., is the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors.