Mrs Claus and My Journey to Family Medicine

This blog post is a finalist in the STFM Blog Competition.

Anna Balabanova, MD

Anna Balabanova, MD

How does a little Russian-speaking girl living in a small town south of Moscow come to be a Chief Resident in family medicine at Northwestern in Chicago? Growing up in that small Russian town, I frequently witnessed my grandmother, a pediatrician, step out into late-night blizzards because a patient needed help. Like a year-round Mrs Santa Claus, she would even bundle herself in a sleigh to reach her patients. The entire town spoke highly of how she truly got to know patients and their families. Throughout my journey to and during my medical career, that image of a caring physician remained in my mind: one who believes that a patient is more than his or her illness, and maybe brings a little Mrs Claus-like magic to them, too.

When my parents and I moved to America from Russia, we could only afford to rent one room in a two-bedroom apartment, with a second family living in the other. Even as an enthusiastic little girl getting underfoot in a small space, I noticed my parents immersed themselves in helping others. I watched my mother teach piano ten hours a day and volunteer for every musical event in the community, and witnessed my father walk to graduate school because we couldn’t afford a car but put in extra hours at work when a coworker needed help. Like my grandmother, my parents made me realize that the values of compassion, dedication, and service are what create magical moments.

In high school I spent over 900 hours volunteering at my local hospital, annoying every medical professional who was willing to answer my many questions and discovering my passion for medicine. The summer after my freshman year in the seven-year Honors Program in Medical Education at Northwestern University, I encountered an obstacle I never thought I would face: during a routine appointment, my family medicine physician confirmed some breast masses I had felt. After numerous biopsies, I was diagnosed with a Phyllodes tumor, as well as multiple fibroadenomas. That year, I learned what it is like to experience the medical system from the patient perspective. My encounters with multiple medical professionals taught me about the physician I do and do not want to be. Later that year, after surgery, I finally was given a clean bill of health, and with that came a deep sense of empathy for my future patients and a desire to choose family medicine, a field that focuses on the patient-physician connection and lets me be there for my patients like my family doc was there for me.


In every rotation throughout medical school, I found myself enjoying and gravitating toward opportunities to hear patients’ stories and be a source of support. One of my favorite experiences in medical school was being selected to be a part of the Education Centered Medical Home (ECMH), in which I and other students from all years of medical school attended the same clinic biweekly for all four years of medical school. At my ECMH, I first learned about continuity of care and found that family medicine allows me to put into practice the principles I learned from my family and my own experiences as a patient. My ECMH is where I knew I wanted to build relationships with my patients in my future practice and see all members of the family.


The field of family medicine is all about community, so it makes sense to me that as I look back it was not one moment or person that led me to it, but collections of moments among communities of people. And maybe a little bit of that Mrs Claus magic, that I now have the privilege of passing on to my own patients.

2 responses to “Mrs Claus and My Journey to Family Medicine

  1. Excellent blog Anna. Your hard work, family values foundation and grandmother’s influence have contributed to the fine doctor that you are today!

  2. A fine entry, and a compelling and wonderful story. Well done!

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