Guest Editorial

A Global View: Family Physicians Make Difference on Broad Scale

October 08, 2014 04:18 pm Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, M.D.

I recently attended the AAFP's Family Medicine Global Health Workshop in San Diego, and I truly love this event. The people it attracts -- practicing colleagues, residents and students -- have a passion for global health and for improving health in every community inside and outside the United States. There is a certain spirit and brother-/sisterhood that unite those who can "speak many different cultures." There is a shared understanding, humility and value for working in global settings and for sharing with, and learning from, people from all around the world.

[Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, M.D.]

Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, M.D.

The number of family physicians interested in this global community is growing. When the Academy held its first global health workshop in 2003, the event drew 35 people, including 15 who served as faculty during the event. The Sept. 11-13 event in San Diego drew 319 attendees, which was up 10 percent from 2013.

The growing interest in global health is multifactorial. It helped that in 2008, the federal government allocated $69 million for global health programs, spotlighting the need and creating opportunities.

But money doesn't tell the whole story. This is also about the way a new generation views the world. The workshop's 319 attendees included 87 residents and 45 medical students -- well more than one-third of the total who attended.

Today's medical students and residents are more likely to be multilingual than the generation of physicians that preceded them, and many have grown up traveling abroad. Although they want to improve the health of their own communities, of course, these young people also have a global view of the world and a sincere desire to make a difference on a broader scale.

Family medicine is a leading specialty choice for students, residents and physicians who want to be involved in global health, and students are responding to that message. Family medicine residency programs prepare physicians to treat children and adults and to provide geriatric, emergency and obstetrical care. The breadth of our specialty makes family physicians useful everywhere in the world because we are trained to handle the vast majority of problems that could present in a doctor's office.

How serious are young physicians about global health? More than 30 percent of medical school graduates participated in global health activities in each of the past four years, and the number is growing. Residency programs are adding international rotations to compete with other residencies. Many residencies also have acknowledged the need for faculty who are knowledgeable on this topic and can serve as mentors to residents who have an interest in global health.

During the recent workshop, we heard from people doing amazing things in many parts of the world. In fact, 12 countries were represented at the meeting. But global health doesn't necessarily mean traveling outside the country to provide care. There are many opportunities to participate in global health in the United States: in inner-city clinics and low-resource communities, in rural practice settings and refugee clinics, and working with migrant populations or along our nation's borders. The developing world exists in many places.

So what else is the AAFP doing to support member interest in global health? The Academy offers a global heath event each year during the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students. The 2015 event is scheduled for July 30-Aug. 1, in Kansas City, Mo. The AAFP also is adding a global health event during the 2015 PDW and RPS Residency Education Symposium, which is scheduled for March 27-31 in Kansas City. This event brings together residency program directors, faculty and staff from across the country.

The Academy also will offer a global health networking event Oct. 23 during the AAFP Assembly in Washington. And next year's Global Health Workshop will be Oct. 2-4 in Denver, which means the event will be co-located with the AAFP Assembly and the Congress of Delegates. Family physicians will be able to experience the policymaking activities of the Congress, the CME of the Assembly and the Global Health Workshop in one place in one week. And physicians who attend the Global Health Workshop will be eligible for discounted Assembly registration.

Earlier this year, the Academy created the Center for Global Health Initiatives (CGHI) to be the primary contact and resource for AAFP members who are interested in getting involved in global health. For more information about global health, contact CGHI Director Alex Ivanov, M.B.A., at

Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, M.D., is an assistant professor in the department of community and family medicine and director of the family medicine residency program at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.