Growing Family Medicine is 'Fantastic Mission'

August 13, 2018 11:21 am David Mitchell

Joseph Gravel, M.D., completed his training at Virginia Commonwealth University-Fairfax Family Medicine Residency and was practicing in Vienna, Va., when a chance meeting with a recruiter at the AAFP's Scientific Assembly (now the Family Medicine Experience) led him home to Massachusetts.

[headshot of Joseph Gravel, M.D.]

"I was at a wonderful place in Virginia, but the idea of helping family medicine grow and thrive in Boston was really appealing," said Gravel, a graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston. "It's a fantastic mission."

Gravel was faculty at the family medicine residency program at Malden Hospital, which was affiliated with the Boston University School of Medicine, when the school announced plans to open a new residency program elsewhere. Gravel helped convince his alma mater to bring the Malden program to Tufts.

"I really wanted Tufts to further develop its own family medicine department and presence," said Gravel, who was the residency program's director for the next 14 years. "Tufts typically had three or four graduates per year match into family medicine. Now they match 25 students a year."

Tufts started its family medicine program in 1993 with four residents per class and eventually expanded to eight per class. Gravel is again trying to help double the size of a Massachusetts residency program, this time as chair of family medicine and community health at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center (GLFHC), where he served as residency program(glfhc.org) director from 2009 to 2015.

The GLFHC was the nation's first teaching health center, with a residency founded in 1994 in response to a primary care physician shortage. When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 created the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program, GLFHC expanded from eight to 10 residents per class. It got bigger in 2013 when it joined an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) pilot program studying a four-year training model. Now GLFHC is seeking state funding to possibly expand further.

GLFHC provides care for 60,000 patients at six primary care sites, two school-based clinics, 16 shelters and a mobile unit.

"The residency program has attracted outstanding physicians who want to teach and provide clinical care," said Gravel, who also is the organization's senior vice president and chief medical officer.

Gravel still sees patients despite a loaded calendar. He serves on the boards of the American Board of Family Medicine, the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, and the Massachusetts AFP. He also is the chair of the Academic Family Medicine Advocacy Committee and serves his state chapter as an alternate delegate to the AAFP's Congress of Delegates. He recently joined the ACGME's Review Committee for Family Medicine.

He's also a past president of the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors, the Family Medicine Education Consortium and the Massachusetts AFP.

At 58, Gravel said he thinks GLFHC could be the last stop on his curriculum vitae.

"It's a fantastic place to be," he said. "It's challenging but rewarding. There's still a lot of work to be done. I believe that everyone deserves a family physician and optimal health care regardless of income level, so I'm hopeful we will continue to make progress as a community health center and a residency. I'm optimistic because we have incredible people serving an inspiring patient population."