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Tuesday Sep 27, 2016

Meeting With Mentor Underscores Importance of Relationships

You never know who you might run into at the AAFP's annual meeting -- former colleagues, old med school classmates, friends from residency or perhaps a mentor.

Last week during the Congress of Delegates and the Family Medicine Experience (FMX) in Orlando, Fla., I heard multiple speakers talk about the need for more family physician preceptors and mentors, so it seemed fitting that I then ran into my first family medicine role model.

Photo courtesy of Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, M.D.
Here I am with Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, M.D., who wrapped up her term as the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors at this year's Congress of Delegates. Just as I've stayed in touch with my mentor Bill Hakkarinen, M.D., through the years, I hope I'm able to continue my friendship with Marie as she pursues her family medicine career.

It was nearly 40 years ago that Bill Hakkarinen, M.D., of Cockeysville, Md., allowed me to shadow him every afternoon for 12 weeks. He was a new physician and I was a high-school senior. It was my first exposure to health care as an observer, and as I watched Dr. Hakkarinen, I thought, "This is what doctors do. This is a real doctor."

Later, I observed other physicians in other specialties. They did portions of what Dr. Hakkarinen did, but they weren't as comprehensive, and they didn't have the same kind of relationships that this young family physician seemed to have with every patient in his small town.

I went on to college and medical school, and I eventually matched into general surgery. After a few weeks, I knew it was a mistake. I belonged somewhere else, but where? I thought back to my time with Dr. Hakkarinen. I thought about the comprehensive care he provided and the relationships he developed with his patients. I knew what I had to do. I made a few phone calls and found an open spot in a new family medicine residency program.

At 72, Dr. Hakkarinen no longer sees patients, but he is still working as a state employee in disability determination. Ironically, some of the same subspecialists he used to refer patients to now come to him for advice on disability cases. For example, a pulmonary specialist was reviewing the case of a patient with lung disease recently. The patient's lung condition did not rise to the level of disability, but he also had osteoarthritis. So that subspecialist turned to Dr. Hakkarinen for help.

Some physicians with subspecialty training who are working on disability cases had a narrow focus during training, meaning some cases fall outside their comfort zone. Dr. Hakkarinen, on the other hand, has the broad knowledge base that is the hallmark of family medicine.

Dr. Hakkarinen's ties to my family weren't limited to his mentorship. He worked with my mom when she was a long-term care professional, and I even was a babysitter for his son. I have run into Dr. Hakkarinen a few times at various family medicine meetings through the years, and he has kept tabs on my career.

When I talked with Dr. Hakkarinen last week, it happened to be on the day I wrapped up my term as AAFP president. When he told me he was proud of my accomplishments, I have to admit I got a little emotional.

As Dr. Hakkarinen and I caught up, I had the opportunity to introduce him to a young physician with whom I have a special bond. Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, M.D., recently completed her term as the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors. Connecting them was special for me, like coming full circle. Just as Bill and I have stayed in touch for decades, I hope Marie and I will be friends and colleagues for years to come.

For me, coming to the AAFP's annual meeting transcends the governance of the Congress and the CME of FMX. We talk a lot about patient-physician relationships in family medicine, but last week allowed me to share and rekindle valuable relationships of another kind. It was an important opportunity to immunize myself against burnout with sustained professional support and friendships. There was a lot of work to be done at these meetings, but it also was a week of hugs, stories, and giving and receiving support from so many colleagues across the age and practice spectrum.

If you've never attended the Congress of Delegates or FMX, you might find more than you ever imagined. Next year's Congress is scheduled for Sept. 11-13 and FMX will be Sept. 12-16, both in San Antonio.

Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., is Board chair of the AAFP.

Posted at 05:01PM Sep 27, 2016 by Wanda Filer, M.D.

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