Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(1):36
Author disclosure: Nothing to disclose.
Although the primary objective of American Family Physician is to provide updates on clinical conditions managed by family physicians, the journal periodically addresses matters pertinent to the future of the specialty. The article by Dr. McGaha and colleagues in this issue of AFP represents the fifth time that the journal has published answers to medical students' frequently asked questions concerning the specialty.1 These questions are important to address because many medical students continue to be trained in environments that do little to promote understanding of the daily practice of family medicine. Most medical school faculty members know little about our specialty or the scope of our practice, and almost nothing about the Future of Family Medicine project.2 As family physicians address the future of health care in the United States, we must also be a source of this information for our medical students.
First, we have to present the facts, and that is part of the purpose of the article. The questions uncover areas in which students often receive misinformation. We must communicate to our students, our patients, and the public the value of family physicians. We should talk about those we serve: those who benefit from early detection of cancer, those we help to manage their hypertension, and those we encourage to quit smoking. Every day we have small victories, help our patients to better their health, and provide something insurance companies cannot properly reimburse. Most medical students are looking for a meaningful life; they can find this life in family medicine. However, the facts about family medicine are often obscured by the myths.
Can we counter the myth that a career in family medicine is limited because we do not have the opportunity to specialize? Yes, we can. Our training prepares us to care for patients of all ages in many different settings, regardless of their presenting symptoms. We are not limited to an organ system, an age, or a sex. Neither are we limited to the clinical setting—we can move easily from the bedside to practice-based research, from the examination room to the political arena, and from the office to overseas disaster sites.
We collaborate with each patient to reach a diagnosis and treatment plan that reflects all we know about that person. When necessary, we can perform a range of procedures, from dermatologic to gynecologic, to care for minor traumas and laceration repair. We not only provide care for acute illnesses and chronic conditions, but also preventive care that perpetuates a healthy attitude toward life. This comprehensive and collaborative approach results in high-quality care that is also cost-effective.3
Just as we strengthen the collaboration between patient and physician, family physicians extend that empowered relationship to the entire health care team. We function in all areas of medicine, moving easily among the various factions to find common ground and innovative solutions. We serve as strong role models not only for our patients, but for our colleagues in other specialties, having initiated recertification and set the standard for continuing education.4
Now, as we prepare for the future, family medicine is again at the forefront. The Future of Family Medicine project calls us to a new frontier in medicine, and our students will help lead the way. Our greatest challenge will be to urge the best and the brightest of our medical students to join us in family medicine. We can do that only by committing to telling our stories and showing who we are. We must each identify and refute the myths about our specialty. We must answer our students' questions through our words and through our actions. We have a new generation to inspire to join us in the specialty we love. It is time to tell students your story.