Resident's Fitness Focus Set Her on Family Medicine Course

December 09, 2019 10:39 am David Mitchell

Before she enrolled in medical school, Julie Foucher-Urcuyo, M.D., M.S.,(juliefoucher.com) spent time shadowing physicians at a family medicine clinic where she had been a patient. It didn't seem to be for her.

[headshot of Julie Foucher-Urcuyo, M.D., M.S.]

"It seemed too broad and not that exciting," Foucher said. "I very much wanted to be an expert in one part of the body. I thought I was going to be a surgeon or medical specialist."

Outside the academic realm, Foucher was training and competing as a CrossFit athlete. From 2010 to 2014, she finished in the top five four times in the CrossFit Games,(games.crossfit.com) which draw thousands of competitors from around the world each year.

"It drastically changed the way I thought about health," she said. "In the CrossFit community, I saw people making changes to improve their health, lose weight and gain confidence. As a medical student in our continuity clinic, we talked to patients about the need to exercise and eat better, and six months later we'd have to increase their medications."

She also witnessed the end-stage complications of patients' lifestyle choices and the importance of preventive medicine.

"I thought, I want to be on the front end of this and help people be as healthy as possible," said Foucher, now a third-year resident in the Cleveland Clinic's Family Medicine Residency Program. "That drew me to family medicine."

Foucher's best showing in the CrossFit Games was a runner-up finish in 2012 -- her first year at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. Her grueling schedule consisted of a full day of school and studying, up to several hours of training at night and carefully planned meals throughout the day.

Foucher was a favorite to win the Games in 2015 but tore her Achilles tendon during the third event on the first day of a regional competition. She returned wearing a walking boot to complete the two-day event, finishing eighth overall.

"It was devastating because it was my last season," said Foucher, who already had decided not to compete nationally while in residency. "The CrossFit community was so supportive. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life."(www.youtube.com)

Foucher said she sees parallels between CrossFit and family medicine. CrossFit requires participants to use equipment from multiple disciplines while training, and competitions incorporate events from different sports, including weightlifting, rowing, running, swimming and more.

In other words, you have to be good at many things to succeed.

"We're not the best athletes in the world in any one thing," said Foucher, who competed in gymnastics and track in high school. But CrossFit let her succeed in a broad scope that single-sport athletes never achieve; she sees something similar in family medicine. "I can't know everything about everything in medicine, but there's a lot of value in being well-rounded."

Foucher will complete her medical training in 2020 and hopes to open a direct primary care clinic with her husband, family physician Dani Urcuyo, M.D., a CrossFit athlete and coach who graduated from the Cleveland Clinic residency last year.

"We think it's the best model to allow us to spend more time with patients and help them make lifestyle changes," she said.