What's the best-kept secret in family medicine? It might be the Center for the History of Family Medicine(www.aafpfoundation.org), or CHFM, the only repository devoted exclusively to preserving and sharing the story of our specialty in the United States. In essence, the CHFM is the collective memory of family medicine.
Younger Academy members may not know the center exists. Older members may remember it as an archive -- but it's now so much more than that. In fact, it's likely the most ambitious effort by a specialty to systematically preserve its own history.
Begun in 1989 as the AAFP Archives, the CHFM has grown to become the historical repository for the family medicine specialty as a whole, a research library, and a museum of family medicine artifacts.
The center is housed in several interconnecting rooms within the offices of the AAFP Foundation, which is located at the AAFP's headquarters in Leawood, Kan. Professional archivists work in the CHFM's climate- and humidity-controlled environment to preserve, organize and share decades of documents, photographs, books, films, videos, artifacts and memorabilia, including the personal and professional papers and oral histories of many family medicine leaders.
The CHFM is home to the organizational records of the family medicine "family," including the AAFP, AAFP Foundation, American Board of Family Medicine, Association of Departments of Family Medicine, Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors, North American Primary Care Research Group, and Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.
The extensive holdings of the CHFM chronicle the specialty's roots in general practice; its dramatic development as a 1960s reform movement that changed medical education and the delivery of care; and its self-examination this century in the Future of Family Medicine project, which set the specialty on its present course.
CHFM's ongoing oral history program is a prime example of the center's effort to reach beyond organizational records. Currently, more than 100 oral histories from individuals who played key roles in the specialty's development are available as audios, videos or transcripts.
A regularly updated catalog of the center's holdings, as well as a collection of monographs -- called "History Facts on File" -- covering a variety of topics in family medicine history, are available on the CHFM web page.
Many collection items also appear in exhibits that are displayed at family medicine meetings, including the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, and at AAFP headquarters. Online versions of several of these exhibits are available on the center's web page.
The CHFM also fulfills reference requests from individuals or institutions. In addition, its collections are open to historical researchers. Researchers also may apply for the annual Fellowship in the History of Family Medicine(www.aafpfoundation.org), which provides up to $1,500 to cover travel, lodging and incidental expenses while conducting research at the center.
Family physicians should take pride in their specialty's story and in the center's work to preserve that story for future generations. The best way to support the center's work is to contribute to the CHFM Endowment(www.aafpfoundation.org), which was established in 1998 with the goal of eventually making the CHFM self-sustaining.
To learn about other ways to support the CHFM, contact the center at (800) 274-2237, ext. 4420, or via e-mail.
Alexis de Tocqueville once said, "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." Thanks to the Center for the History of Family Medicine's important work, family physicians and the specialty's collective spirit will continue to walk in the light.