July 25, 2022, 2:21 p.m. David Mitchell — Annie Rutter, M.D., M.S., was destined to teach.
She tutored middle school students while she was in high school, high school students while in college and younger medical students during med school.
“That one-on-one relationship-building is what I love about teaching, but it’s also what I love about being a physician,” she said. “I knew when I was in medical school that I was really interested in teaching.”
The question for Rutter was, where to begin?
“When I started looking at residencies, there were a lot of things that were important to me,” said Rutter, who will be a panelist during an Aug. 24 webinar for students titled Applying to Family Medicine Residencies. “I think all students are trying to figure out what’s most important to them as they go through this process of finding the right residency fit. For me, a lot of it was focused on academic rigor and the clinical work. I wanted to be a really good family doctor when I was done. I really wanted to get the opportunity to teach and to hone those skills as well.”
Rutter found what she was looking for during a Match interview at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Family Medicine Residency Program with (then) program Director Clark Denniston, M.D.
“I met him and I thought, ‘I want that guy’s job,’” said Rutter, who is associate professor and academic vice chair, director of medical student education, and clerkship director in Albany Medical College’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. “He worked with students and residents and was passionate about education and teaching. I felt like I could really find a mentor in him. North Carolina has a robust family medicine department with lots of opportunities for teaching. I was fortunate enough to match there.”
In Denniston, Rutter also found a teaching style to emulate.
“He tried to get to know you as a person and also to find out what you knew,” she said. “Then he filled in what you needed to learn with his knowledge and skills, so it was really individualized. He was able to adjust his teaching to really meet that person with what they needed from him.”
Despite her multiple leadership roles, clinical work accounts for 70% of Rutter’s time. She sees patients in the residency’s outpatient clinic, rounds at its inpatient service and takes call at another hospital for maternity and newborn care. She works with students and residents in all three locations.
“What’s fun about my job is that every day is different — and also every week,” said Rutter, who also is an attending physician in Albany Medical College’s primary care clinic and a clinical assistant professor of family medicine for the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. “What is special in academic family medicine is using our clinic as the classroom where students and residents can work with faculty to take really good care of patients and learn in the process. That’s a really rewarding part about clinical teaching, this apprenticeship model of having learners standing side by side with you as you’re doing the work of caring for patients, and their participation is really valuable.”
Rutter feels fortunate to have had excellent mentors both at UNC and as a medical student at Albany. Although career adviser isn’t one of her many titles, she’s happy to play that role for the next generation of Albany students.
“When you’re the director of a specialty clerkship, the students who are interested in that specialty find their way to you,” she said. “I’ve been really fortunate in the 10 years I’ve been doing this to meet many students who are trying to find their way in their careers. I’ve met many students who want to be family physicians, and then the next step of that job is to help them find their right fit in a family medicine residency. There are about 700 family medicine residency programs across the country, so how do you find your people in that sea of information?”
Rutter reminds students that all family medicine programs have to meet the same basic training requirements, but there are variations in mission, population, setting and focus. Just as she sought a program that could prepare her for a career in academic medicine, she encourages students to reflect on the topics within family medicine — obstetrics, behavioral health, sports medicine, etc. — that speak to them.
“Once they’ve chosen family medicine, that feels like, ‘Wow, isn’t that a big enough decision?’” she said. “But the next decision is, ‘What residency program?’ That’s been a wonderful part of my job, helping students at Albany Med. And I think this webinar will really help get the message out to students that there’s a place for you in family medicine. You have to do a little work to find it.”
Rutter serves on the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Board of Directors and is chair of its Medical Student Education Committee. She said residency mentors encouraged her to present at an STFM meeting, and that experience deepened her ties to family medicine.
“The people I met there were academic family doctors from across the country doing really cool things,” she said. “You make connections and network in a way that is professionally fulfilling, and it keeps me excited about my work in academic family medicine and the future of our specialty.”
Rutter said those national connections have helped her “get out of my little, upstate New York bubble and see what the world of academic family medicine looks like.”
“What can we bring back that’s innovative and exciting and give our students and residents in Albany the same opportunities?” she said. “What are they doing in Seattle, San Diego or Dallas, and how can I bring that back to my learners?”
Rutter will attend STFM meetings that coincide with the July 28-30 National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students in Kansas City, Mo. Rutter also will represent Albany’s residency program in the Expo Hall at that event and offer advice and encouragement to Albany’s large contingent of medical students as they meet with representatives from the hundreds of other programs exhibiting during the conference.
“At the end of interview season, I meet with students at Albany Med one at a time to go over their rank lists,” she said. “When they come back and say, ‘I don’t know who to put No. 1 because so many places would be great,’ I say, ‘Isn’t that a wonderful place to be, that you could open your envelope on Match Day and any of your top choices would make you happy?’ Most students I have worked with over the years realize they would be happy at many places because there are so many opportunities in family medicine.”