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Wednesday Jan 11, 2012

Breadth of Opportunities in Family Medicine Intrigues Medical Students

With a shortage of more than 45,000 primary care physicians forecast in the next decade, building interest in family medicine has never been more important.

This past weekend, I had the unique opportunity to address two groups of medical students -- the first via a video conference with student leaders who were meeting halfway across the country in Leawood, Kan., and the second by participating in the Washington AFP Foundation's Student and Resident Retreat in Leavenworth, Wash.

Many topics were covered at the two events --  including the AAFP's advocacy efforts, payment reform and the patient-centered medical home. But one topic that was highlighted within both student groups was the breadth of family medicine.

I started my Saturday by talking to students attending a Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) Network orientation meeting via Skype.  

The AAFP has one national FMIG coordinator, five regional FMIG coordinators and a liaison to the Student National Medical Association. These students perform the vital job of communicating information about family medicine to their fellow students through the more than 140 Family Medicine Interest Groups on medical school campuses across the nation with the goal of building and maintaining interest in family medicine. This supports the Academy's goal of increasing the primary care workforce.

The Academy offers a number of other leadership opportunities for students and residents, too. It's a big commitment for these young people to step up and take on this level of responsibility, but even at this early point in their training, they really can have an influence on our specialty.

One of the FMIG student leaders asked me how they can reach their fellow students and convince them that family medicine is a career option they should consider. The answer is different for different people, but one advantage of family medicine is our scope of practice.

You can be a family physician and have a focus in women's health and obstetrics, or sports medicine, or geriatrics, or pain management or -- in my case -- information technology.  All of these are areas where having a foundation in family medicine training combined with a little bit of a dive into a focused area of interest can be a more satisfying blend for many physicians, rather than having an extreme focus in a narrow subspecialty.

Later in the day, during the Washington AFP's event, I participated in a panel that also demonstrated the broad spectrum of family medicine. I offered the view point of a family physician from a large group practice, but other panelists included a hospitalist, a rural family doc, a solo physician, an FP from a community health center, another from a hospital-owned primary care practice and another who practices in a direct contract model rather than accepting insurance.

The point of the session was that despite many challenges, there is not one single model that must be followed in family medicine. You can pursue the practice model that fits your professional and personal needs. The physicians on this panel had found their niche, were still excited about family medicine and presented a positive message to a capacity crowd.

In another sign that interest in family medicine is growing, the retreat drew 120 students and residents. The chapter had a waiting list but could not accommodate more because of restrictions with the venue.

Looking at the bigger picture, the Academy's student membership is up more than 20 percent compared to this time last year. We must continue to nurture that interest, build respect for family medicine and expand our pipeline. The future of our specialty, and health care in this country, demands it.

Posted at 02:57PM Jan 11, 2012 by Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I.

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