September 23, 2021, 3:36 p.m. — As a recently graduated family medicine resident, it was inspiring to hear genuine advice and guidance from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., during a Sept. 16 livestream for AAFP resident members. As one of the most trusted voices in our country on matters of public health (and the son of a family physician), his perspective and encouragement was refreshing.
One of his key points was that patients rely on their primary care physicians as a trusted source of accurate information amid the rapid spread of misinformation related to science and medicine. Murthy called family medicine the “original model of medicine.” We have spent the time to build trust with our patients, and they look to us for the most accurate information regarding the safety and efficacy of everything from prevention to treatment.
We have been on the front lines of this pandemic since the beginning and continue to serve in all manner of settings, including urgent cares, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics and hospitals. We must continue our work and do what we do best, which is counsel and care for our patients and their families. Unfortunately, some patients remain hesitant to be vaccinated, and we are entering a new and more challenging wave of the pandemic.
President Biden recently gave a speech regarding his Path Out of the Pandemic plan, in which he called the nation’s primary care physicians to action because we are the most trusted medical voice to our patients. He encouraged us to continue to have conversations with our unvaccinated patients to help educate them regarding the evidence related to the efficacy and safety of these vaccines and their importance as our best defense against COVID.
During our livestream, Murthy reiterated that this trusted relationship is “why family medicine is more important now than it ever has been in our country.” When it comes to making such important decisions about their health and the health of their families, our patients rely on their own primary care physicians.
As a physician transitioning from residency to a new family medicine practice, I connected with this idea about the importance of building trust with my patients during a politicized pandemic. As I have navigated my imposter syndrome and being out in practice on my own, I have found that my patients come to me with their questions and hesitations as they ask for my advice and opinion on topics, including the COVID vaccine. I realize just how important a role I have as their family physician in helping them navigate their health and wellness.
There are several things residents can do in addition to counseling patients regarding the COVID vaccines. During a day off, I volunteered in a COVID vaccination drive for medically underserved people in my local community to provide vaccines to ensure access to those who otherwise may have difficulty obtaining it.
I would also encourage you, as Murthy mentioned, to be critical of information shared on social media, and make sure that anything that we decide to share as physicians comes from a reputable source and is evidence-based medicine. Our friends and family, not just our patients, are relying on us to not participate in the spreading of misinformation. I view every conversation with a patient that results in them deciding to get vaccinated as one that saves multiple lives. It is so fulfilling and exactly why I became a family physician — to serve as a connection between our patients and the knowledge and information that we spent so many years learning in medical school and residency.
What a treat it was to have this inspiring conversation with “America’s doctor” as he has helped lead the national response to a range of health challenges as well as cared for thousands of patients over the years and trained undergraduates, medical students and medical residents like us. I hope you enjoyed this conversation as well. Members who missed the live event can watch the replay.
Watch for upcoming announcements regarding the details of our next resident livestream, which is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. CT on Nov. 30.
Anna Askari, M.D., M.S.B.S., is the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors.