As a fourth-year medical school student at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., Erin Saner has already given back to her community in multiple ways. She recently spoke with AAFP News about why she has chosen to pursue family medicine as her specialty and what she plans to do as a family physician.
Q: How did growing up in the small rural community of Hamptonville, N.C., affect your decision to choose primary care -- and especially family medicine -- as your specialty?
A: I grew up surrounded by a culture that was generally skeptical toward doctors. I saw loved ones suffer from preventable diseases such as emphysema in long-time smokers and diabetes as sequelae of being overweight. As someone who has struggled with weight personally since childhood, I wanted to learn what drives healthy behaviors and how to instill those motivations in myself and others. Ultimately, I wanted to learn how to create a more positive and trusting culture between physicians and the community at large to promote greater wellness.
Q: You said you knew you wanted to go into medicine when you were 12 or 13 years old. Can you explain why?
A: As a young child, I loved to read. What was most fascinating to me, in particular, was science. I had my first taste of biology in sixth grade and fell in love instantly. I had a great curiosity for people and how we function physically, emotionally and socially. From cell biology to neuroscience to psychology and everything in between, I loved to read to learn more about myself and others around me. The factor that drove me toward medicine was that I also loved serving the community. Primary care seemed to be, and continues to be, the perfect application of my curiosity and love of people and my dedication to service throughout the community.
Q: How have you been able to immerse yourself in the surrounding community while in medical school?
A: I have been involved in volunteer efforts in our student-run DEAC (Delivering Equal Access to Care) Clinic(www.wakehealth.edu) for most of my time in medical school. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences to be able to directly apply my basic science and clinical knowledge to serve the community from very early in my career. Additionally, I have been able to serve my community by organizing a student-run rural health fair (Boomer Share the Health Fair)(www.wakehealth.edu) inspired by my experiences at home and abroad.
Erin Saner, a fourth-year medical school student at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., helps a team of medical students prepare for the inaugural Boomer Share the Health Fair -- an event she organized to benefit her community.
Q: You've said experiences, including those you've had abroad, helped you choose family medicine. Can you give an example of such an experience?
A: My experience abroad took place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and was a career-defining moment. I spent a week with several medical students, physicians and nurses providing primary and urgent care in two clinics. I was inspired by this experience because of the huge impact we made with few resources. Serving on the frontlines of health care is the most fulfilling job I could have ever imagined. It lends us an opportunity as providers to connect with people in a way that not only touches illness and disease, but ultimately leaves a lasting impression on the lives of patients and families.
Q: You've talked about having a strong interest in preventive care. Why is this approach important in improving community health?
A: Preventive care is crucial to community health because as communities, we rely on one another. Just as self-care is the first step to caring for others on an individual basis, preventive care is the first step toward healthier communities. For future family physicians like myself, the first step is to engage locally in your communities and promote awareness of beneficial lifestyle behaviors and how to sustain those small changes to foster big benefits.
Q: You've referred to family medicine as a specialty where you can "make what you want of it." What do you mean by that?
A: Family medicine is miles wide in terms of breadth of knowledge and patient populations. With such a broad foundation of training, the opportunities formally (i.e., fellowship) and informally (i.e., preferential practice) to explore areas of interest are endless. Inpatient, outpatient, community medicine, academic medicine, urban, rural, obstetrics/gynecology, geriatrics and everything in between are available for more experience. The best part is no matter what path, or paths, you choose within family medicine, there is always room to find the best fit for you at any point in your career.
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Q: How do you see yourself making what you want of family medicine?
A: I have a distinct interest in academic medicine, with continued volunteer efforts through the community. Additionally, I have interests in integrative medicine as a unique approach to primary care that I truly believe is the next big thing for ensuring wellness for patients in all aspects of life. An added benefit is that often, integrative medicine is therapeutic for providers, as well, in that it hones skills of self-care, mindfulness, acceptance, stress reduction, nutrition, physical activity, empathic engagement and spiritual wellness.
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