Making connections to boost family medicine

April 4, 2014

By Ronald Fong. M.D.

While medical schools graduate a lot of students who have been trained in family medicine, most new doctors eventually choose to practice as specialists in fields like radiology, anesthesiology, and dermatology. That gap has helped create a shortage of primary care physicians, in California and nationally.

Factors contributing to the relatively low interest in family medicine include: lower compensation compared to other specialties, perception of voluminous and tedious paperwork, limited prestige among patients and colleagues, and the demanding commitment of providing continuity of care.

The primary care shortage became more pressing with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. While more people now obtained health insurance, there was not a proportional response from public policy and medical schools to attract graduates into primary care to meet the increasing patient need.

Yet, why do certain medical students entertain family medicine and how can more be encouraged? How can citizens contribute their voice to solutions and feel engaged at the local level? I am working with the UC Davis Family Medicine Interest Group and a local business to team up to encourage and to support medical students interested in family medicine. If Mr. Smith can go to Washington and stand up for the greater good, then medical students and Sacramentans can convene to ensure their communities will have access to personal physicians. They are pilot participants in the “adopt-a-medical student” program. The goal of this venture is to give local small businesses an opportunity to engage in primary care recruitment directly to address their employees’ needs. Concerned citizens can reach out to bond with future physicians and chart a course for sustained access to primary care. They need not form political action committees or wait in the offices of elected officials to implement change. In conjunction, medical students can interface with the local communities they will serve after graduation and find affirmation in their decision to pursue family medicine.

Phuong Tran is a second year medical student at UC Davis. She is in the Rural PRIME track which identifies students from small communities who seek to return as primary care physicians. For her, family medicine fills a childhood void. Growing up in a remote part of Vietnam, she wistfully recalls how money or material possessions mattered little with respect to health care since there was no infrastructure in place to care for her family and friends. She wants to connect communities with her classmates and she is willing to give of herself to pursue this. The intent of this program is to promote awareness and conversation in our communities about the role of family physicians and how they can strengthen the resolve of medical students interested in family medicine.

The business partner is Michael Madsen, owner of the Coffee Garden in the Curtis Park community. Michael has been active in promoting the NorCal AIDS Cycle event. Also, Michael has opened up the Coffee Garden to host town hall meetings discussing the Affordable Care Act. He appreciates the stewardship of community resources and wants to support those who support him. Michael will be posting Phuong’s photo and letter of appreciation at his shop. He will encourage patrons to attach small notes of encouragement to these items. This mosaic will be a beacon for Phuong as she endures examinations, overnight hospital call, and substantial student loans.

We usually identify heroes on the national and international stage. We admire those who touch and earn millions. However, local heroes’ proximity should not diminish their stature.

Dr. Fong is director of the UC Davis Family Medicine Residency Network. His opinions are his own and do not represent UC Davis.

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