As the 2022-2023 term comes to a close, we sat down with incoming STFM President Renee Crichlow, MD, FAAFP to learn about her journey to family medicine education, her plans for the presidency, the importance of good conference snacks, and her love of Audible.
“We are a community of learners and teachers from and for each other. STFM never stops working for Family Medicine or our learners, teachers, and patients. From clinical teaching through the ranks of academia, the bureaucracy of medical schools, and amid policymakers, STFM is working for you and with you. We are you; together, we are thoughtful, strong, and persistent.”
Renee Crichlow, MD, FAAFP
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, the first job I wanted growing up was to be a rodeo rider. I don’t know why, but I remember writing about it in my journal when I was six. Then I wanted to be an oceanographer because Jacques Cousteau was one of my heroes in the 70s, then I fell in love with rocks. As a kid, I could probably name every rock or crystal you could find. My favorite was feldspar. Then came the point in my life when someone I respected a great deal asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was 12. I was pretty good at science, and people liked to talk to me, so I said I would like to be a doctor. Mrs. Rutherford said I would be an excellent doctor. She was a nurse and someone I admired, so I figured if she said I could be a doctor, I could probably be a doctor. My first job in healthcare was as a phlebotomist in Boston. It was there I worked side-by-side with doctors. I appreciated that they supported and encouraged me to attend medical school. So, I left Boston and went to UC Santa Cruz as an undergraduate. After that, I went to UC Davis, which had a strong family medicine focus.
What drew you to medicine and family medicine education in particular as you grew?
The people I admired were the family docs that worked and taught at UC Davis. The specialists at UC Davis were very kind, compassionate people, but the folks that were doing the kind of work that I thought the doctor was supposed to do (take care of people from the time they were born till the time they die and everything in between) were the family docs. The department Chair at the time, Dr Klea Bertakis invited me to interview after she heard my Grand Rounds in my chief resident year. She asked me to consider becoming an attending at the UC Davis Dept of Family and Community Medicine. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, tutoring, and mentoring. I come from an academic family, so the thought of teaching at the graduate level sounded like an excellent way to continue learning and growing as a physician and a person, so I jumped in and never looked back.
When you’re not revolutionizing family medicine education, how do you like to spend your time?
I like to spend my time traveling with my family and reading books or having books read to me. My wife and I have three teenagers, and they are each fantastic in their own way; traveling the country with them has been filled with surprising and wonderful adventures. Also, I am quite likely emotionally dependent on Audible.com in ways that others might consider unhealthy; what do you mean you can’t listen to books in the shower? Why else would one have waterproof earbuds?
What do you wish all members and non-members knew about STFM?
The Society of Teachers of Family Medicine is shaped by and shapes the specialty of Family Medicine. We are a community of learners and teachers from and for each other. STFM never stops working for Family Medicine or our learners, teachers, and patients. From clinical teaching through the ranks of academia, the bureaucracy of medical schools, and amid policymakers, STFM is working for you and with you. We are you; together, we are thoughtful, strong, and persistent. That’s what I’d want them to know. Also, they should know that when I’m typing, my autocorrect flags “STFM,” which always suggests “storm” instead.
If you could impart your past self with any wisdom from the future, what would it be and why?
I would tell past Renee that loving who you are now is a path to becoming who you can be. It may not be the only or easiest path, but it will sustain you. I would tell her that building joy is courageous and starts with me. I would look her straight in the eye and say, “Stillness is the ground, fear is the noise, and Love is both the signal and receiver.” Past Renee would then look at me, think I was a little eccentric, and then she would go out and make the same mistakes I made in the past that I have now learned from, allowing me to become who I am today. That is the other path; experience plus reflection equals wisdom.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in life, and why?
My children are kind and courageous. My learners are innovative and bold. I can, have, and will be a catalyst for systems change, and I have learned to lead from love and help unleash people to claim their own power.
What drives you to show up every day?
Black Jeep with seat warmers and remote starter…just kidding. I show up. I understand that change is the only constant, and we must help shape that change. But that was a journey; first, I showed up because I wanted to survive, and if I didn’t, only bad things would happen. Then, I started realizing I needed more than survival. I wanted to live, which meant showing up for myself too. Then, I understood that I needed more than just survival and more than just to live. I want to thrive, which means showing up for myself and showing up for and with others. I show up to shape change.
What is your most used STFM resource?
My colleagues, this community of learners is my most useful STFM resource. Other than the members, I would say STFM Connect, which helps me stay connected with those colleagues.
What would you tell medical students and residents about their journey ahead?
Family Medicine is THE FUTURE of Healthcare. Machines or Artificial Intelligence can never replace us. We are a critical component in a compassionate and functional healthcare system. We need to build that compassionate and functional healthcare, and together we can.
Has a lesson you’ve learned stuck with you your whole life?
Be kind. Be kind to me and others.
What do you most look forward to most in your term as STFM president?
I look forward to shaking the US medical and educational system to its core, reshaping it into a model for the world, and choosing snacks at conferences.