FPs Stay Involved With Family Medicine Interest Groups

July 18, 2012 05:00 pm Sheri Porter

During a simulated delivery exercise, medical students look on as one of their colleagues learns a delivery technique from University of Arizona family medicine faculty members Coleen Cagno, M.D., center, and Paul Gordon, M.D., right.

Anyone who doubts the influence a family medicine interest group (FMIG) can have on medical students has never met Tejal Parikh, M.D., of Tucson, Ariz. Parikh hails from a long line of physicians. Her mother is an OB/Gyn, and her father is a surgeon. Parikh's extended family includes a neurologist, a urologist and a cardiologist.

"I was never exposed to family medicine, but through the family medicine interest group at my school, I ended up becoming a family physician," says Parikh.

Today, she is many years past medical school and her role as an FMIG co-leader; it was nearly 20 years ago that she completed her residency at the University of Arizona Family Medicine Residency. Today, she serves as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson campus.

But she's also come full circle with her FMIG involvement; Parikh now holds the reins as faculty adviser for the school's family medicine interest group. "I feel like it's payback time," says Parikh. She describes FMIGs as "a way to cast a wide net to students to show them what opportunities are available within the scope and breadth of family medicine."

story highlights

  • Family medicine interest groups (FMIGs) play a significant role in getting medical students interested in the specialty.
  • FMIGs work hard to create student activities that show students the breadth and depth of family medicine.
  • Family physicians who were active in FMIG programs in medical school often re-involve themselves in FMIG work later in their careers.

In her role as adviser, Parikh works with FMIG student leaders to help create programs that best illustrate the role of family physicians in practice. For example, when medical students wanted more exposure to how family physicians handle patients in childbirth, Parikh helped create the baby beeper program.

"Students would carry a beeper for a week at a time and be paged by the residents or faculty when there was delivery, says Parikh. That way they were able to see how family physicians approach delivery, she adds.

Parikh's adviser role also carries with it a mentoring responsibility. "Medical school is a process, a journey, and that can be very challenging for students," says Parikh. "I help them to see that there is a life after medical school and residency and what that life can look like.

"I feel that it's my responsibility to pay back those doctors who helped shape me when I was a medical student and who helped me make a decision about going into family medicine. Not everyone will go into family medicine, but at least they will be exposed to what a family physician can do, and even those students who become subspecialists, will know what a family doctor can bring to the table."

Arizon Med School Wins AAFP Award

Representing the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson campus, Family Medicine Interest Group are (left to right) faculty advisor Tejal Parikh, M.D., and medical students Shanna Semmens, co-leader; Brianna Ketterer, treasurer; and Zach Orman, co-leader.

Each year, the AAFP recognizes 10 family medicine interest groups (FMIGs) for their efforts to stimulate student interest in careers in family medicine with the Program of Excellence (PoE) awards. Among the 2012 award winners is the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson.

Tejal Parikh, M.D., is the FMIG faculty advisor. "I was excited to learn that we won the PoE award," she says, adding that it brought her FMIG experience full circle because she served as an FMIG co-leader when she was a medical student more than 20 years ago.

The PoE awards will be presented at the 2012 National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students to be held July 26-28 in Kansas City, Mo.

From Counter Culture to Mainstream

According to the AAFP's Division of Medical Education, family medicine interest groups started in the late 1970s as a counter-culture movement in medical schools. The Academy did not conceptualize a specific framework for supporting FMIGs until 1995.

Currently the FMIG count -- including groups at main medical school campuses and branch campuses -- stands at 138 groups nationwide.

Gretchen Dickson, M.D., is the co-adviser of the FMIG at the University of Kansas School of Medicine Wichita, where she also is an assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine.

Like Parikh, Dickson also never intended to become a family physician. "I was planning to do pathology," says Dickson, who completed the University of Missouri at Kansas City Family Medicine Residency Program in 2008.

She recalls that as a first-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she inadvertently stumbled upon an FMIG meeting. "I went to what I thought was an AMA meeting (with the promise of receiving a free textbook); then someone wrote the letters 'FMIG' on the board," Dickson says.

She was sitting directly in front of the speaker, and a quick exit likely would have been awkward, so she settled in for the duration of the meeting.

"The faculty adviser (speaker) took his patient list from that morning and went through everybody's story," says Dickson.

She was hooked.

"No one in my family is in medicine, and so I didn't know what a family doctor was; I thought it was just treating colds and doing sports physicals. If I hadn't joined the FMIG, I don't know that family medicine would ever have been on my radar screen," says Dickson.

As co-adviser of her school's FMIG, Dickson appreciates the difficulties of getting students interested in family medicine. FMIGs often run on a shoestring budget, but "For the cost of pizza for 30 students, you can wind up having a lot of people who get really interested in family medicine and become great family docs," says Dickson.

In addition, says Dickson, the advent of social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, has extended the reach of FMIGs far beyond the newsletter her group printed and mailed out just a decade or so ago.

Fourth-year medical student Kysha Nichols Totten (left) watches as a high school student practices her blood-draw technique at the "doc for a day" event sponsored by the KU School of Medicine-Wichita FMIG.

Family Physicians Stay Involved

"FMIGs? Love em," says Mike Sevilla, M.D., of Salem, Ohio. This FP is more than 10 years out of residency and provides direct patient care in private practice. But he remembers his days as an FMIG leader at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown. "The FMIG concept is still relevant because it exposes students to family medicine mentors," says Sevilla.

He always thought he would follow in the footsteps of his father, a surgeon, but it was the influence of his FMIG that led him to choose a family medicine residency program instead.

"I followed a family physician during office hours, and she told me the story of each patient before an office visit, even if the patient was there for something minor like a blood pressure check," says Sevilla. The physician recounted stories about patients' children, parents and grandparents. "Even though I only spent half a day there, that FP helped me to get to know the human part of taking care of patients past the lab tests and vital signs."

Now, he says, it's his turn to "pay it forward." Sevilla serves as a mentor to the students in his local FMIG, and he uses the lessons his mentor taught him when interacting with the students. Sevilla says he tries to recreate the personal relationship with patients his mentor demonstrated for the medical students visiting him in the hope that he can interest them enough to join the ranks of family medicine.

Family physicians who would like to get involved with their local FMIGs can find information about the national and regional coordinators of FMIGs and how they can help support their local FMIGs on the FMIG Network website.