What Students Want to Know About Family Medicine

American Family Physician Updates Popular FAQ

February 03, 2016 12:15 pm Sheri Porter

Some messages bear repeating every so often. Such is the case with a recent article published in American Family Physician (AFP) in which the authors unabashedly promote the virtues of family medicine and back up their sentiment with facts and an appropriate amount of reality.

[Doctor holding chart with the words

The open-access article, titled "Response to Medical Students' Frequently Asked Questions About Family Medicine," reprises a similar piece first published some 30 years ago in the Journal of Family Practice.

Various iterations have been published in AFP several times since, most recently in 2007.

The authors know their topic well; six of the seven are family physicians, including lead author Stanley Kozakowski, M.D., director of the AAFP's Division of Medical Education.

He affirmed for AAFP News that the 2016 version of the article was written for students who want to learn more about the discipline of family medicine or who may be contemplating a career in family medicine and still have unanswered questions.

"We thought it was time to share with the medical student community -- and those who work with those students the most -- responses to the most frequently asked questions that we receive in the context of a U.S. medical system that is rapidly evolving," said Kozakowski.

Story Highlights
  • American Family Physician recently published an open-access article answering students' most frequently asked questions about family medicine.
  • Students often have questions about issues such as scope of practice, general family medicine training and select procedures for which family physicians are trained; they also ask about salary issues.
  • In an accompanying editorial, the authors urge family physicians to serve as mentors and to use the article to disseminate accurate information about the specialty.

"As the environment changes, it's clearer than ever before that family physicians are a critical resource to patients, their families and to the communities where they live. Students need to know that physicians in this specialty are poised to play an increasingly important role in the transformation of the health care system," he added.

What Students Want to Know

The authors throw out some facts that may surprise medical students. For instance, there are more family physicians than physicians in any other specialty.

In addition, family physicians comprise 13 percent of the U.S. physician workforce, but they provide 25 percent of the ambulatory care.

"As the U.S. health system moves to paying for quality rather than quantity of services provided, family medicine is poised to make a substantial positive impact on the health of the nation," write the authors.

They answer questions about

  • the importance of family medicine as a specialty,
  • the family medicine model of care and the patient-centered medical home,
  • scope of practice,
  • opportunities for global health experiences,
  • general family medicine training,
  • combined residencies and advanced fellowship training, and
  • select procedures for which family physicians are trained.

They also explore some of the more philosophical questions students pose, such as how to know if family medicine is the right choice and what factors should be considered when choosing a family medicine residency program.

The authors say it's not unusual for students to question how family physicians stay current in a cradle-to-grave specialty that is enormous in its scope.

And then, of course, every student with even a hint of interest in family medicine -- and with loan repayment looming on the horizon -- eventually asks the money question. The authors respond with this simple fact: "Family physicians have been the most recruited specialists since 2006, with an average starting salary of $198,000."

Furthermore, they note, "as the demand for family physicians grows, so do salaries."

The authors predict a bright future for family medicine and point to changes in the U.S. health care system that are increasing the country's demand for family physicians. "It is estimated that an additional 52,000 primary care physicians will be needed by 2025," say the authors.

Galvanizing Family Physicians

Even though the article's authors aim to pique the interest of medical students and settle nagging questions in the minds of those close to embracing the specialty, the authors of an accompanying editorial target an entirely different audience.

Family physicians Vince Winklerprins, M.D., of Arlington, Va., and Jay Siwek, M.D., of Silver Spring, Md., opine that the article holds critical information for more than 100,000 family physician readers.

"Practicing family physicians are role models for medical students and strongly influence career decisions about family medicine," they write. "Hundreds of medical students have told us that an office rotation with a family physician is what inspired them to choose family medicine as a career."

The pair point out that when students rotate with other specialties, they sometimes are "dissuaded" from pursuing family medicine; it's therefore imperative that family physicians arm themselves with accurate and timely information about the specialty if they are to give wise counsel to inquiring students.

The editorial authors note that "the true meaning of family medicine cannot be conveyed in a classroom talk." Rather, they argue that what students crave are stories about the specialty that only family physician mentors can provide.

"We need you to be a mentor," the authors implore. "Every family physician who works with students is a mentor. We appeal to each of you to embrace and own this role and to seek out students or residents with whom you can work, and talk about your own career and the career path before them."

Students need a "good sense" of the possibilities that lie ahead for 21st-century family physicians, say the authors. "Share and disseminate this article widely."

And most importantly, have ready answers when a curious medical student approaches with that "tell me more" look in his or her eyes.

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