Tennessee AFP Taps Into Student, Resident Energy; Explores Social Media

January 29, 2014 12:10 pm Sheri Porter

Those who haven't visited the website of the Tennessee AFP recently might notice the addition of the Facebook icon now prominently displayed on the site's home page along with a request to "Like us on Facebook." The focus on social media is part of the chapter's efforts to enhance communication with its members and, in particular, to engage with medical students and family medicine residents.

The Tennessee AFP's 2013 Annual Scientific Assembly in Gatlinburg includes a president's banquet during which past chapter presidents, family medicine residents and medical students gather for a group photo.

"The presence of Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites in the lives of the majority of young people is simply undeniable," said Craig Wright, M.D., of Nashville, who chaired the chapter's communications work group early in 2013.

"(Although) the sheer volume of information that these sites can communicate is daunting, the Tennessee AFP hopes to utilize these avenues to build enthusiasm for family medicine during the early stages of a young person's medical career," Wright told AAFP News Now.

Now in his first year of private practice, Wright recalled how the AAFP's dive into social media in 2011 helped him, as a family medicine resident, to see at a glance what the national Academy and its leaders were working on.

"No matter what your particular views are on the use of social media, the effect of those avenues is undeniable," said Wright. "Implementing these new strategies is a good way for leaders within our Tennessee Academy … to reach medical students and residents in a new and different way and to focus on the future."

Story highlights
  • In an effort to engage and better serve medical students and family medicine residents, the Tennessee AFP has embraced social media as a vital communications tool.
  • The Tennessee chapter also looks for opportunities to put its youngest members in contact with positive family physician role models at chapter meetings and other family medicine events.
  • In ongoing efforts to fill the state's family physician pipeline, the Tennessee AFP provides financial support and strategic planning assistance to family medicine interest groups in Tennessee.

Tennessee AFP President Kim Howerton, M.D., of Jackson, remembered a specific committee meeting in the fall of 2011 during which members charted the chapter's 2012-2014 strategic plan. "We looked at what Tennessee needed and what our country needed, and it was more family physicians," said Howerton. "The younger members really pushed us to look at new ways of doing things because young people don't want to go to meetings; they'd much rather have information communicated in an electronic format."

Howerton hinted at the chapter's concerns about maintaining an appropriate presence at all times in a social media atmosphere. "We want to be professional but, at the same time, meet the needs of our members," said Howerton. "So we're cautious and very deliberate as we move forward with our Facebook page and with our conversations about when and how we will start using Twitter."

Tennessee AFP Meeting Fuels Student Enthusiasm

Other means the chapter is using to reach out to students were the direct result of a series of quarterly meetings between local Blue Cross Blue Shield leaders and Tennessee AFP Executive Director Cathy Dyer. The insurer was looking for ways to increase student interest in family medicine.

"Cathy established relationships with Blue Cross and wrote a grant (proposal) that ultimately resulted in a $7,000, two-year grant dedicated to funding students' attendance at our annual October meeting in Gatlinburg," said Howerton.

Just five students were able to attend in 2013 because of the late distribution of the grant money. But post-meeting recaps written by the students highlighted the extraordinary importance of those "elbow-rubbing" opportunities between medical students and family physicians and the lasting power of positive physician role models.

For example, Nicholas Saltarelli, a student at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, wrote, "As a second-year medical student at an institution with no family medicine program, attending the conference was particularly important to me, as it increased my exposure to family physicians and to other like-minded students passionate about primary care.

During Vanderbilt Primary Care Week in October, medical students involved in planning events on the university's campus pause for a photo. From left to right, they are Eszter Szentirmai, vice president of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA); Joshua Hollabaugh, Vanderbilt family medicine interest group (FMIG) co-leader; Allison Umfress AMSA president; and Ashlee Hurff, Vanderbilt FMIG co-leader.

"The opportunity to engage with dozens of family physicians in informal mealtime discussions on topics of health care reform, medical education and the spectrum of family practice was an invaluable one," said Saltarelli. More than a month after the conference, he added, "I continue to be energized to explore family medicine."

Amanda Miller, another scholarship recipient and a medical student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, was equally appreciative of the opportunity. "One of the most encouraging aspects of the conference was seeing how many practicing family physicians stated that they were still satisfied with their career choice … this further solidified my decision to enter family medicine," said Miller.

Khai-El Johnson, a medical student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, called the chapter event a "meeting of the minds." She said the physicians she encountered there believed that through their work, they added "true value" to the lives of their patients.

"How could such passion not be infectious to a new medical student finding her way in medicine?" asked Johnson. "This may have been that seminal event in my medical path, the one that steers me toward the practice I am meant to pursue," she added.

Students Engage Students

In addition, the Tennessee AFP knows that student-to-student communication can be a powerful recruitment tool for the specialty, especially when it is supported by family medicine interest groups (FMIGs) on medical school campuses.

"Our goal is to find that one student who is passionate and then equip that person to go back to his or her campus and spread the word," said Howerton.

Jessica Cornett Allen , M.D., a Vanderbilt graduate, was the medical school's only student to match to a family medicine residency in 2013. Now an intern at St. Mary's Family Medicine Residency in Grand Junction, Colo., Cornett Allen served as a family medicine touch point for her fellow Vanderbilt students.

"The Tennessee AFP was absolutely amazing; they made sure that I could go to the yearly conference (the AAFP's National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students,)" said Cornett Allen. "The chapter provided scholarships to the Vanderbilt students because we don't have a family medicine program, so they knew we needed the exposure.

"I went to the conference three years in a row; it was my yearly family medicine fix," she added. In turn, Cornett Allen became an FMIG leader on the Vanderbilt campus.

"Jessica was unique," said Dyer. "She had a group of students behind her; she mentored them, and, as a result, they understood the importance of family medicine and primary care."

Cornett Allen was a pro at putting on lunchtime lectures that attracted as many as 50 student attendees. "I wanted to raise awareness about family medicine and primary care so I picked cross-over topics that were relevant to a number of different fields, such as homeless health care, rural medicine and how to work with midwives," she explained. "And then, at every one of those events, we put in a little plug for family medicine.


Chapter executive director: Cathy Dyer
Number of chapter members: 2,603
Year chapter was chartered: 1948
Location of chapter headquarters: Brentwood
2014 Annual Scientific Assembly: Oct. 28-31, Park Vista Hotel, Gatlinburg

"The FMIG received support from the national Academy and the local Tennessee chapter. We couldn't have done it without their support; they really helped us get peoples' attention," said Cornett Allen.

Ashlee Hurff, a second-year medical student at Vanderbilt, has been a key player on the FMIG team there. She said in addition to helping fund activities, the Tennessee AFP has helped FMIG leaders brainstorm about the challenges and opportunities available on the campus.

During a working dinner one evening, "We talked about the climate at Vanderbilt and generated ideas about activities we could put into action to highlight primary care and family medicine," said Hurff.

She noted that student interest in family medicine was growing on the campus. "It's really rewarding. We (the FMIG leaders) came in thinking we were the only people interested in family medicine and that the most we could do was increase respect for primary care."

However, every FMIG event she's worked on has attracted at least 20 students "who are interested in primary care and who are relieved that they have an outlet to explore the specialty," said Hurff.

As chapter president, Howerton knows that tapping into the energy that students and residents bring to the table has been nothing but positive for the chapter. "If we provide them with a glimpse of our passion for family medicine and our patients, these young people will go back and spread the word," she said.

"They're on fire. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and it is a joy to be around them."

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