• Veteran Mentor Finding New Ways to Help Students

    August 16, 2021, 1:15 p.m. David Mitchell — It’s been six years since the University of Kansas School of Medicine recognized mentor Rick Kellerman, M.D., with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Although such honors often are reserved for those who are retired or retiring, the 67-year-old Kellerman is still finding new ways to shape the future of the specialty.

    headshot of Rick Kellerman, M.D.

    During the recent National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, the AAFP honored Kellerman with the Joyce Jeardeau Memorial Award, which recognizes faculty or staff support of a family medicine interest group. Kellerman, who has been the chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at KU’s Wichita campus for nearly a quarter of a century and was a residency program director for eight years prior to that, took on the additional role of FMIG advisor a few years ago when staff changes left that post vacant.

    Kellerman said he filled the FMIG role partly out of need, but also because it was one of the few jobs left in academic family medicine left for him to experience. He relinquished the advisor role this summer, but he now is KU-Wichita’s clerkship director — another position somewhat unusual for a leader entering his 40th year in academia.

    Twenty-five percent of graduates from KU’s Wichita campus pursue family medicine — roughly double the national average — and Kellerman said the school has had good FMIG advisors in the past. However, his experience the past three years has made him question the status quo.

    “One thing I’ve learned is that we may have been making a mistake in family medicine education because sometimes we take our junior people and put them in as clerkship directors and FMIG advisors,” he said. “I’m not so sure that sometimes we shouldn’t be looking at our more mature faculty who have been through some other battles and had other experiences. It’s kind of like a baseball player when you bring them up to the majors a little bit too early, and we should be giving them a little bit more seasoning.”

    Kellerman has been through his share of battles. He has served both the Kansas AFP and the AAFP as president and Board chair and also has served on the boards of both organizations’ foundations, as well as the boards of his county medical society and state hospital association.

    His time on the KAFP Board coincided with a crisis related to skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates that drove many primary care physicians from rural practice in the state.

    “We put together a plan to try to recharge family medicine and our rural areas,” he said, “and I’m really proud of how the state of Kansas looks now, even though we’re still underserved in some areas compared to where we were in 1988.”

    The Sunflower State has 105 counties, and Kellerman said more than three-quarters of those counties have KU-Wichita graduates practicing family medicine. Challenges still abound. A handful of Kansas counties do not have a single physician, and some have less than three full-time primary care physicians. KU is addressing that need with a network of more than 200 family medicine preceptors not only in Wichita — Kansas’ largest city — but also spread across the state, including its rural communities.

    “I think our students are getting really good experience from our family physician preceptors, most of whom have come up through our system, so it’s kind of self-perpetuating at this point,” he said. “When we send students out there, we’ve got great confidence they’re going to get an excellent experience.”

    The Wichita medical school is community-based, with more than 1,000 volunteer faculty at three local partner hospitals as well as doctors practicing across the state.

    “We are very proud of the fact that we do not fit in a traditional academic environment,” Kellerman said. “We’re family docs, we belong in the community, and we train physicians for the community. We love it.”

    Kellerman also is pleased that all three of Wichita’s federally qualified health centers (and most of the state’s roughly 30 FQHCs) are staffed by family physicians, which was not the case when he arrived in town in 1996.

    KU students praised Kellerman for his leadership during National Conference, and he said he has benefited from his relationship with them.

    “I’ve got people from my age group from residency and medical school who are retired,” he said. “I feel great. I still have a lot of energy, and I think part of that is working with the medical students, residents and young faculty every day. I have to tell you, they are so good, and working with them more on a daily basis has really helped me.”