June 14, 2022, 9:00 a.m. David Mitchell — Amy Crawford-Faucher, M.D., was happy in her role as program director, leading the Forbes Family Medicine Residency in Monroeville, Penn., for five years. Then COVID-19 forced her to think even bigger.
In the winter of 2020, Crawford-Faucher received a memo about the anticipated spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the need to prepare. She reached out to an executive in the Allegheny Health Network to ask who would lead the system’s primary care response to the looming pandemic. The response she got: “Thanks for asking.”
“I found myself at the table,” she said.
It turned out to be a big table. Crawford-Faucher found herself immersed in plans for COVID-19 testing, immunizations and efforts to protect worker health in a system with 24,000 employees, including 1,500 primary care physicians, clinicians and office staff at 14 hospitals and 117 primary care clinics in western Pennsylvania and upstate New York. She also took on the role of medical director for telemedicine at a time when care was shifting rapidly to a virtual environment.
“I’m trying to keep my finger on the pulse of the various COVID-related activities that are happening now,” she said. “Most of our system’s testing and vaccinations are essentially happening within primary care. And since other specialists often refer their patients to their family physician for updated guidance on COVID treatments, a recurring part of my world now is bringing COVID updates to our primary care institute clinics, doctors and clinicians monthly, so that we’re all up to date on the latest evidence-based and recommended treatments.”
Crawford-Faucher, who earned an undergraduate degree in communications from Cornell University, spent two years working in public affairs for Beth Israel Hospital in Boston before deciding she needed a white coat of her own. During the pandemic, she dusted off her communications skills to reach patients through print, radio and television interviews.
“I never really thought too much about my communications background until COVID hit, and I ended up doing a lot with our COVID response for our health system and a lot of media,” she said. “I’ve been thinking a lot over the last couple of years about the intersection between the theory of communication and how important it is in my medical work.”
Ultimately, Crawford-Faucher, who already was system vice chair for family medicine, was promoted to system vice chair for primary care, which includes family medicine, general internal medicine, geriatrics, virtual urgent care and employee health. The change meant giving up her role as program director.
“I was extremely happy as a residency director, but these other things pulled me in a different direction,” said Crawford-Faucher, who serves as residency faculty. “I still love working with residents, but I couldn’t give the residency the attention it deserves.”
Leadership isn’t new to Crawford-Faucher. She’s wrapping up nearly a decade of service on the Family Medicine Education Consortium’s board of directors. The FMEC, she said, is a “small, scrappy organization that tries to marry clinical innovation with supporting and expanding interest in family medicine in the northeast corner of the United States.”
She’ll share the stage with Donald “Raj” Woolever, M.D., (who is the current past president of FMEC) during the new Resident Boot Camp at the AAFP’s National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students. Crawford-Faucher said her focus will be on family medicine leadership during the July 28-30 event in Kansas City, Mo.
“I feel strongly that we are an under-recognized resource in health care leadership,” she said. “The general, practical, problem-solving mindsets that we bring to patient care are the same perspectives that can be transformative in leading people and organizations.”
Students, take note. Crawford-Faucher started making a name for herself in family medicine while she was still in medical school. She was an editor of the Medical Student Section of JAMA for two years while at the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now the Drexel University College of Medicine). Her work caught the eye of Jay Siwek, M.D., who was then the editor-in-chief of American Family Physician.
“He called me one day,” Crawford-Faucher said, “and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been wanting to start this resident-student section of AFP. Are you interested?’”
Thus, Crawford-Faucher and Sumi Sexton, M.D., started AFP’s Resident and Student Voice feature in 1996. (Sexton eventually succeeded Siwek as AFP editor-in-chief in 2018.) Crawford-Faucher has served as a reviewer and contributing editor for AFP and as a reviewer for The Archives of Family Medicine, Family Medicine and The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
Crawford-Faucher said family docs, in general, have “an overabundance of humility.”
“All the things that make us great family physicians also make us great leaders,” she said.
“We need to be more visible and more vocal because what helps family medicine and primary care in this country is going to help the overall health care system. We sell ourselves short, and we’ve got so much to offer as a specialty and specialists.”
Crawford-Faucher recently completed an executive education course through the Harvard Business School that brought together clinician and business leaders to focus on health care delivery. She said it was an “eye-opening, inspiring” experience, but she also noted that she was one of two primary care doctors among 40 participants.
“We’re underrepresented even in that environment,” she said.
Health care delivery is a major focus for Crawford-Faucher. Allegheny Health is in year five of an effort to bring advanced team-based care to all of its practices, including embedded pharmacists, behavioral health consultants, registered dietitians, social workers and health coaches. She said the health system is working to maximize both quality of care and operational efficiency.
A key consideration, she said, is how to maintain a high level of care in the system’s considerable footprint while maintaining the human contact that patients crave.
“I don’t want to lose the soul of what we do as family physicians within a large health system,” she said.
Crawford-Faucher said her overarching goal is to help drive the United States toward a primary care–focused health care system.
“I know it sounds like pie in the sky,” she said, “but I firmly believe that shifting from fragmented, siloed, specialty-oriented care to a system more focused on primary care is going to improve the health of the nation. That’s what underlies my decisions and the kinds of jobs I end up taking.”