Liz Reed, a second-year medical student at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, thought working in primary care was going to be dull compared to what she had seen as a volunteer in a big trauma center. But once she realized how family physicians use their relationships with patients and their community to improve health, she knew she'd found the right specialty for her.
Reed recently spoke with AAFP News about how she came to choose family medicine.
Second-year medical student Liz Reed says that working in a community health center showed her the broad scope of family medicine.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?
A: I always knew that I wanted to do something that would be of service to other people, so I was leaning toward medicine. Then what solidified it was my dad fell and broke his back a few years ago, and I saw the care he received from his care team and his doctors. His insurance wasn't going to pay for a specific rehab program for him, and his doctor was the one to fight the insurance and was able to get him into that program so he could fully heal and function again.
I think just seeing the difference we can make not only in our patients' lives, but in the lives that extend around our patients -- their family and friends -- is really what drew me to medicine.
Q: I understand that working in a community health center in Seattle through AmeriCorps opened your eyes to the broad scope of what family physicians do. What was your perception of family medicine before then?
A: I had been volunteering at Harborview, our No. 1 trauma center here in Seattle, and I really liked the fast pace of things. I remember talking to this nurse and saying, "I'm going to be transferring into AmeriCorps and I'm going to be in a primary care clinic, so it might be a little boring," and she looked at me and said "Oh, honey, you have a lot to learn."
I knew from my visits that general docs were someone we could go to when we had questions, and they gave us checkups and things like that. But serving in AmeriCorps and being in a community health center surrounded by health disparities really opened my eyes to advocacy roles that physicians can have. Family physicians establish those relationships and that trust to be able to work on some of those things besides just diagnosing someone and sending them home.
Q: What did you learn about the scope of family medicine when you began working at the clinic?
A: They do a ton of things -- you never know what you're going to walk into that day -- and one of the biggest things for me is that relationship piece when your regular patients are coming in and you know their stories. And I feel like there's more knowledge about resources and what's available in the community in a family practice setting.
Q: Do any stories about those doctor-patient relationships stand out to you?
A: I was the chronic care coordinator, so I worked a lot with the chronic condition patients -- diabetes, high blood pressure, all that stuff. A lot of it was talking with the patients and working with them on setting lifestyle goals. When they would come back in for a follow-up appointment and their A1c was down maybe half a point or a point, being able to celebrate those success stories were some of my favorite things. They set these goals to modify their lifestyle and they can see how successful that is, and a lot of that comes from them. Helping to empower them is probably my favorite part.
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Q: You work in the community you grew up in. What did your community show you about family medicine, and what did family medicine show you about your community?
A: Growing up, you have this idea that doctors are these special people, these maybe far-away people who maybe don't really participate in their community. But I think it was really cool to see some of these patients in clinic, and then see them around my favorite restaurant or something like that. I realize that this area that really has given to me -- my restaurants, my grocery stores, all these things that help me grow and live -- you kind of have a hand in those, too, when you're helping the people who run those places.
Going back to that relationship piece, the way to utilize that is really getting to know the people in your community and seeing what it's like. From a health perspective, I don't think I realized some of the disparities that existed in my community, or the makeup of my community, until I took a look at it. Especially being in a community health center that focused on service to Latinos, I didn't realize the extent of that population in my community. Now I realize it's a pretty big component, and of course all the health disparities and issues that go along with that specific population.
Q: What do you wish every medical student understood about family medicine?
A: I think that it's not a "settling" position to be a family doc. There's so much you can do with family medicine and so many different lives and levels that you can have an impact on. You do really get to do a lot in the scope of family medicine. I wish more med students had more exposure to family medicine so they understand that it moves beyond well-child checks and chronic conditions. Those are two important things that can make up part of your practice, but there's so much more that family docs can do.
Q: What are you planning to do in family medicine?
A: I want to be in a smaller, underserved, maybe more rural area. I really like working in community health centers and trying to help people with their overall psychosocial life aspects, and trying to address those health disparities.
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