Teaching Residents to Share Their Stories

July 15, 2019 09:03 am David Mitchell

As a new academic year begins, Reid Blackwelder, M.D., finds himself halfway through his fourth decade in family medicine. Looking ahead, it seems a foregone conclusion that the 61-year-old will, at a minimum, start a fifth.

[headshot of Reid Blackwelder, M.D.]

"At the moment, I don't see myself slowing down," said Blackwelder, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at East Tennessee State University, which offers three separate residency programs in three different communities. "There are too many things to be done. I'm not bored, and we're having a lot of fun."

Take, for example, last week. Blackwelder met with ETSU's 20 new family medicine residents and taught the interns how to read and interpret electrocardiograms (similar to sessions he'll teach July 25(plan.core-apps.com) during the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students in Kansas City, Mo.).

But Blackwelder didn't stop with clinical instruction. He also gathered his first-year residents in a circle and asked them to share why they chose ETSU and family medicine. He let each resident pick a small animal totem and tell why they selected that specific animal. And, finally, he taught them how to make fire with flint and steel.

What does any of this -- minus the EKG -- have to do with health care?

"Medical students and residents need to recognize that they have to make their voices heard," he said, "and building relationships and telling and sharing stories are critical skills."

That's one of the messages the past AAFP president will share at National Conference during a leadership development workshop. He also will participate in the AAFP Foundation's Family Medicine Leads Emerging Leader Institute.(www.aafpfoundation.org)

What are his other key points for students and residents?

"You have to find a way to be informed about what's happening in the world and not just focus on the next study group," he said. "Find a way to share your story. That's how you get things to change in this country."

Blackwelder's experiences in leadership are many. He was a residency program director for 14 years, a role he relinquished during his six-year tenure on the AAFP Board of Directors. For the past two years, he's been chair at ETSU following a stint as interim chair.

"I had a lot of other options," said Blackwelder, whose term as AAFP Board chair ended in 2015. "I chose to stay at ETSU because there was an opportunity to stay involved in teaching that might not have existed at other locations. One of the things I'm passionate about is teaching. I found a way to do what I love most in a job that often is made up of a lot of meetings. I found the best of all worlds for me."

Medicine isn't the only thing Blackwelder teaches. During National Conference, he will make time to lead a yoga class.(plan.core-apps.com)

"People ask me, 'When are you going to retire?'" he said. "I don't see that happening any time soon. I'm blessed to do what I love on a daily basis -- working with learners at various stages of training."