Author Archives: stfmguestblogger

It Is Time to Serve as a Primary Care Physician

By Sumi Dey, MD and Harland Holman, MD

It’s time to serve as a primary care physician.

This is what we tell our students. Why? Because the US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that by 2025 the United States will be short 35,000 to 44,000 adult care primary care physicians. We believe this is a crucial time for medical students to become interested in serving as primary care physicians. If future students will not prepare to care for our nation’s needs, who will?

If a student asks why they should be primary care physicians, this is our answer.

Americans who regularly visit their primary care physician have a 33% lower health care cost and 19% lower odds of dying than patients who visit only specialists. According to the Report on Financing the New Model of Family Medicine, if every American had an established relationship with their primary care physician, it would reduce national health care costs by $67 billion per year.

Primary care access is correlated with more equitable distribution of health within a population and can mitigate the adverse effects of income inequality. This is especially important in the United States, where minorities and economically challenged people are struggling to access regular primary care.

Countries where patients have established relationships with primary care physicians have lower depression and suicide rates. Mental health problems including depression and anxiety are part of patients’ everyday life experience, and often primary care physicians address mental health at almost every visit. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 70% of visits to primary care physicians are associated with psychological issues.

Establishing a long-term, strong relationship with a primary care physician plays a crucial role in early disease diagnosis and prevention. The Centers for Disease Control show that disease prevention is important in creating healthier communities and productive lives, and in reducing overall health care costs.

Primary care physicians provide continuity and preventive care for a wide range of medical conditions and undiagnosed health concerns. They also serve as the framework for building a strong health care system that ensures positive, cost-effective health outcomes and health equity for the nation, especially in underserved populations.

Students, it’s time to serve as a primary care physician.

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.

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The Road to Family Medicine

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

Jeanne Wigant, MD

Jeanne Wigant, MD

On the highway, en route to an important destination, you notice a sea of red before you. Traffic is at a standstill, and you reluctantly take your place in line. Glancing at the clock, then the line of cars inching along, the uneasiness in your stomach grows. Do you trust the GPS telling you to stay the course, or your instincts pulling you toward the next exit? This was exactly the scenario I found myself in 8 years ago. I was in the midst of a successful business career when I realized my desire to improve others’ lives as a physician was more important than any size salary or fancy corner office. I trusted my instincts, took the next exit, and walked away from everything I knew in favor of the unknown winding road before me.

Initially, the angst was distracting; I could only focus on the unfamiliar road itself. I involved myself with causes and positions that felt most comfortable coming from the business world but worried I was letting what seemed to be familiar ‘landmarks’ distract me from what my true route was intended to be. I was identified as a leader amongst my colleagues, university, and community, and was called upon to serve in numerous leadership capacities. It wasn’t until I began to appreciate how I could leverage this to call attention to issues I was passionate about that I realized what an invaluable trait this was for the future leader of a multidisciplinary healthcare team. I began to trust myself and could sense I was headed in the right direction.

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