October 1, 2021, 12:30 p.m. — Family medicine is known for its broad scope of clinical care. Our clinical training allows us to work in environments from newborn nurseries to nursing homes. We can deliver babies, do procedures, and treat and screen for disease. It’s true, family medicine can (almost) do it all. As primary care physicians, we are proud to be one-stop shops to meet the needs of our patients in their own communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic further revealed the strength and versatility of family medicine. Although the pandemic put a halt to many activities, the health needs of our communities remain. We are on the front lines of patient care and improved telehealth options to ensure all patients have access to their primary care physicians. However, our impact is not limited to our work inside the clinic or hospital walls.
Our perspectives as family physicians grant us unique opportunities to speak first-hand on topics impacting our patients’ lives. The work of family physicians has been frequently highlighted in the local and national news during the pandemic, and it should come as no surprise then that primary care physicians are one of our patients’ most trusted sources of information. Our longitudinal relationships with patients provide us this privilege to connect and build trusting relationships. I saw this trust in family medicine emphasized in my own clinical rotations and as I scrolled the news. For National Primary Care Week, which runs through Oct. 9, I want to highlight some amazing family doctors who are making their voices heard during this pandemic.
Daniel Lewis, M.D., C.P.E., C.A.Q.S.M., is a family physician in Tennessee who has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, and elsewhere for combatting misinformation and encouraging vaccination in his community. Lewis, who was hospitalized with COVID early in the pandemic, met his patients where they were —nursing homes, churches, or online — to talk about the importance of getting vaccinated.
I like Dr. Lewis’ story because it really showcases something unique about family medicine: We have the time and skill to build trusting relationships with our patients. Addressing valid vaccine concerns takes time; over the course of several visits, family physicians can truly be there for their patients.
Family physicians are using social media and news outlets to reach out to their local communities and states. Jennifer Bacani McKenney, M.D., a family physician and county health officer in rural Kansas, wrote an opinion piece in one of her state’s largest newspapers about the benefits of getting vaccinated.
Mara Gordon, M.D., an assistant professor of family medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in New Jersey, opened up in an opinion piece for NPR about her personal choice to get vaccinated while pregnant and how vaccinating patients requires careful listening and understanding their concerns.
Leon McDougle, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family medicine and chief diversity officer at The Ohio State University College of Medicine’s Wexner Medical Center, and chair of the National Medical Association, wrote an op-ed for USA Today about the importance of having trusted Black health professionals and scientists on the front lines of vaccine information to combat the health disparities the Black community experiences.
These four individuals, all family physicians, used their expertise, experience and voice to advocate for their communities. I also want to mention Rose Marie Leslie, M.D., a family physician known for her TikTok videos. She breaks down complex scientific topics, making them easy to understand for her young audience. With more than 900,000 followers, she is an influential family medicine voice who provides funny, relatable and accurate information to young community members and patients.
Lastly, family physicians are making an impact in local, state and national advocacy. Recently, Kisha Davis, M.D., M.P.H., testified to the Senate Committee on Finance about improving access to primary and preventive care. Davis, a member of the AAFP Commission on Federal and State Policy and vice president of health equity at Aledade, discussed the growth of telemedicine and how it can be an important tool in ensuring continuity of care between patients and their trusted primary care physicians.
As a fourth-year medical student pursuing family medicine, I am so inspired by all these family physicians. I’m choosing this specialty partly because I saw so many family physicians leading the way on public health and policy issues. We excel in these positions because our patient interactions grant us insight into the barriers of care our patients face, and we see opportunities to improve our care and health system. Whether it’s writing a newspaper op-ed, speaking to Congress or making a TikTok video, we are leaders showing the way in health and combatting COVID-19.
Medical students will have an opportunity to interact with family physician leaders during National Primary Care Week. The AAFP is hosting “What is Primary Care” at 7 p.m. EDT on Oct. 4. These five family physicians will speak about their practices and answer students’ questions:
I encourage students to check out AMSA’s full lineup of National Primary Care Week activities, as well as events on their own campuses. And use the hashtag #NPCW to join the conversation online.
Amy Hoffman is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.