• A Word From the President

    Where Could a Family Medicine Leadership Role Take You?

    Oct. 27, 2023

    By Steven Furr, M.D., FAAFP
    AAFP President

    My leadership path began more than 20 years ago when I joined the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors. It was inspiring work, advocating for my family physician peers and our patients on legislative and regulatory issues.

    Although I was more than a decade into practice, it was then that I realized just how many factors in the community were affecting the health of my patients and that I could not adequately address all those issues within the confines of an exam room.

    I wanted to do more, so I went on to serve more than a decade on the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners and nearly a decade on the Alabama State Committee of Public Health. I also have served as president of both the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and the Alabama Medical Directors Association.

    Ironically, it was during my service on these various boards and committees, alongside many subspecialty doctors, that I realized the importance of family physicians in medical leadership. Family physicians are the doctors who can see any patient, anytime, anywhere. The other doctors I served with are excellent in their chosen specialties, but they only see a fraction of a patient’s situation, whereas a family doctor sees the whole patient (and often the whole family). We see the social determinants of health and all the challenges our patients face, whereas physicians in other specialties may have extremely limited views.

    I realized that family physicians are not just leaders; we are the best physician leaders at both the state and national levels because we have different, more comprehensive viewpoints. It’s often our opinion and insight that can make a difference on a wide range of issues.

    As I begin my year as AAFP president this week, my call to action for you is not to follow me, but rather to join me. The Academy offers numerous leadership opportunities, whether you are an experienced leader or just getting started.

    Our Congress of Delegates recently gathered more than 200 members from across the nation to debate and vote on policy and to elect a new Board of Directors. Our members set the agenda for everything we do as an Academy, and COD offers an amazing opportunity to see their passion in action.

    One of the reasons I initially got into leadership was that my state academy needed to hear from a rural family physician who was practicing full-scope family medicine, including obstetrics. I could offer a viewpoint on every aspect of family medicine from life to death. That rural viewpoint remains important, just as it’s important for us as an Academy to hear from family doctors who are practicing in inpatient, outpatient, sports medicine, geriatrics, hospice care, nursing homes, emergency rooms and urgent care centers, direct primary care practices, academic settings and any other of the myriad of places that family medicine can take you.

    All those practice settings should be represented.

    One thing concerning to me as we look at our leadership is that the Academy has enough positions for every chapter to be represented on one of our eight commissions, but not every chapter has taken advantage of that opportunity to be heard.

    AAFP commissions offer members, including students, residents and new physicians, more than 140 positions to get involved in work that influences AAFP policy on issues related to advocacy, education, patient care, practice issues, membership and more. Serving at the commission level can be a stepping stone to even bigger opportunities.

    If you look at the Academy’s leadership, you will see a great deal of diversity in terms of both race and practice settings. But we also need geographical diversity because every state from Maine to Alaska and Hawaii has a story to tell.

    That matters because national leadership is a two-way street. Your service allows the Academy to hear about issues family physicians and patients are experiencing in your state, and when you go back home you can convey what the Academy is doing at the national level. That is a key connection for a membership organization. The AAFP is nothing without its members and the chapters that make up our Academy.

    The same is true for the hundreds of chapter delegates who participate in the National Conference of Constituency Leaders, which is a development event held each spring in Kansas City, Mo., for underrepresented constituencies, including women; minorities; new physicians; international medical graduate physicians; and LGBTQ+ physicians and allies. That event, which is scheduled for April 18-20, 2024, coincides with the Annual Chapter Leader Forum, which is a development event for chapter leaders and aspiring leaders.

    But it doesn’t have to start there in family medicine because the specialty also offers dozens of leadership opportunities for medical students and residents. Additionally, the AAFP Foundation offers a yearlong leadership program that kicks off every summer during the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students in Kansas City, Mo.

    So many of the things we do related to advocacy will affect students and residents as they go out into their practices, so it’s extremely important for them to have representation. We need to hear student and resident voices.

    It’s amazing how many of our leaders have come out of NCCL and the AAFP’s student and resident congresses during National Conference. Those events are where many people get their fires lit.

    It doesn’t matter when or where you get involved. The thing to know is that when you’re ready, your voice can make a difference for your peers, your patients, your practice and even yourself.

    We know physician well-being is a huge issue. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed or helpless with the struggles we face while trying to help our patients and communities. Getting involved can help you feel empowered, and you never know what contact you have with a legislator or policy maker might make a difference.

    To me, few things are more stressful than inactivity when faced with a challenge, and nothing is worse than coming to a crossroads and being unsure which path to take. I’m here on the leadership path, and I hope you will join me.

    After all, family physicians make the best leaders. You never know where that leadership pathway will take you. I never dreamed that one week ago I would be testifying before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce regarding Medicare reform, but our voice makes a difference. People want to hear from us.


    The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.