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Friday Jun 22, 2012

Physicians Have Calling Not Only to Heal, But to Lead

As a medical student at the University of Mississippi, it often seemed as though the hardest part of my day was learning the acronyms, like AAA, COPD, CHF, WPW and HELLP. 

Help indeed. 

As time progressed and I gained more experience, the secret language of acronyms made sense to me and made my work easier. At the end of a long day, it is more efficient to write or say "NSTEMI" than "non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction." Learning the acronyms is not nearly as important as learning the medicine behind them, of course, but mastering them makes life easier.

Fast forward four years. I soon will graduate from the family medicine residency program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. At the same time, I'm struggling with the thought of dealing with an entirely new alphabet. The realization that terms like CMS, CME, RUC, BC/BS and SGR will make the difference between a successful career in the modern medical world and becoming burned out and disillusioned with it fills me with trepidation.

Residency training is evolving to meet the educational challenges necessitated by advances in medical knowledge and capabilities, but our residency programs often fail to train physicians to advocate the changes that need to be made in the health care system itself.

The AAFP can help. The annual National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, which is scheduled this year for July 26-28 in in Kansas City, Mo., is an excellent way to get started on making our future as family physicians what we want it to be. National Conference presents three priorities of the AAFP in one meeting: engagement, education and advocacy.

As a student and resident, I've served on a handful of AAFP subcommittees and commissions, been a delegate and alternate delegate to the Congress of Delegates, and now am the resident member of the Board of Directors. I'm often asked why I chose to get involved in advocacy, and I answer with five good reasons:

  • Josiah Bartlett,
  • Lyman Hall,
  • Benjamin Rush,
  • Matthew Thornton and
  • Oliver Wolcott.

Those physicians were five of the 56 members of the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The fact that such a significant proportion of the men who forged our future as a nation -- roughly 9 percent -- signed such an important document outside their direct knowledge focus tells me that we, as highly trained and motivated individuals, have a calling not only to heal, but to lead.

When it comes down to it, we all have a passion to make things better. The challenge I offer you, my fellow residents and medical students, is to broaden your sense of what's in the realm of "changeable." Think beyond the confines of your future group or practice and imagine how much better we can make our health care system if we have 10,000 residents and 20,000 students engaged and actively advocating for the future of family medicine in the United States.

It's not an easy task to reach and energize so many people, but then, nothing in medicine is easy. When the process is difficult, we tend to focus on the individual steps that matter, and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Simply put, that big picture involves making the system better. Many of us, in deciding to pursue medicine, encountered an older physician full of frustration and burned out by years of hard work. Often, that physician's advice was along the lines of "Do something else -- anything else. It's just not worth it anymore."

I know, and I hope you do, as well, that this is not the case now and does not have to be the case in the future. The truth is that the face of medicine in the next 20 to 30 years will be what our current students and residents make it.

That brings me back to National Conference, where you, students and residents, can advocate change by participating in your respective Congress business sessions. Hone your advocacy skills by writing resolutions, testifying on the floor, serving on a reference committee and running for leadership positions.

In addition to connecting with people who share your passion for family medicine, National Conference offers workshops, procedural skills courses, and clinics that provide hands-on practice experience, as well as an opportunity to meet representatives from more than 300 residency programs, 50 employers, medical missions and fellowships.

Finally, a few words for three specific groups:

  • Students, it is never too early to get involved. You determine what your impact will be.  Be bold, be passionate and be heard.
  • Residents, now is a great time to get involved. The lessons you learn at National Conference can make you a better physician and make your practice more effective.
  • Program directors and medical school faculty, support your students and residents. Don't just encourage them to attend and get involved. Send them. Students who attend National Conference are much more likely to become family physicians, and residents who attend  are trained to serve as leaders and educators. Ask them about their experiences, and help them spread the message. It's in the halls of medical schools and the lounges of residencies that the passion for family medicine is born and nurtured.

I look forward to seeing you next month in Kansas City and helping you learn the new alphabet of medicine. If there is anything I can do to help you make the most of the experience, please e-mail me or tweet me @pbrentsmith_md(twitter.com).

Brent Smith, M.D., is the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors.


Editor's Note: Attendees who register for National Conference by June 28 save $50. 

Posted at 10:41AM Jun 22, 2012 by Brent Smith, M.D.

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