Faces of Family Medicine

Last Tuesday night, May 17, the HMS Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) and Center for Primary Care took another step toward building a home for family medicine at Harvard. Over forty students and family physicians gathered for the inaugural Faces of Family Medicine Mentoring Dinner held in the Joseph B. Martin Lounge. The dinner connected students with family medicine mentors who represented a wide array of career paths within this unique field of primary care.

Faces of Family Medicine formerly existed as an annual lunch talk that featured a small panel of Boston-based family doctors. This year, HMS FMIG built on that tradition by expanding the diversity of clinical interest and practice represented at the event and by formalizing it from a lunch talk to a dinner.

“Early in the year, we talked about the best ways to increase outreach among our classmates and raise the profile of family medicine at HMS,” remarked HMS FMIG co-leader Andrew Foley, “We settled on this mentoring dinner because we felt it would give our classmates the best opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the field, hear first-hand the passion with which these family doctors approach their work, and, hopefully, establish a future mentorship.”

At the dinner, students rotated about six tables over the course of an hour and a half, meeting twelve different family physicians, who ranged in training level from residents to program directors. Some physician mentors traveled from as far away as Portland, ME and western Massachusetts to attend, while others came from the Cambridge Health Alliance across the river. Together they represented an incredible spectrum of clinical expertise, from women’s health, addiction medicine, immigrant health, health management, rural health, medical education, public health, and health disparities research.

The event not only highlighted the diversity of practice within family medicine, but also helped students learn first-hand how family physicians understand their clinical scope. “One of my favorite conversations from the evening was one that I had with a family medicine physician who said that her specialty is her panel of patients, the people to whom she is dedicated through all of their medical problems, regardless of the organ systems affected or the type of treatment needed,” first-year student Rob Weatherford commented, “I learned that family medicine is not a hodgepodge — a touch of pediatrics, a morsel of obstetrics and gynecology, a smattering of internal medicine — rather, it is a commitment to patients and their diverse medical problems all throughout their lives.”

Moreover, for many students, it was their first real exposure to family medicine; and hearing from family physicians first-hand appeared to have made an impact. First-year student Connie Zhong said she attended the event without knowing much about the field, but left feeling like it was a serious career option for her: “I was most drawn to the idea that family medicine is about caring for patients in the context of their community,” she remarked, “I liked family medicine’s focus on upstream factors that can affect health outcomes and how family physicians tailor healthcare to an individual’s beliefs and environment.”

Even students with prior interest in primary care benefited from the exposure to potential family medicine mentors. “For quite some time I have thought that I wanted to go into primary care, but I have always assumed that I would go into internal medicine because all of my primary care role models are internal medicine physicians,” first-year student Josie Fisher shared, “This event was the first time I was exposed to a broad array of family medicine physicians who I could learn from, look up to, and see myself trying to emulate.”

Sam Zager, MD, a family practitioner at Martin’s Point HealthCare in Portland, ME, brought a unique perspective to the event as an HMS graduate. In summarizing the event, he reflected, “The Faces of Family Medicine dinner demonstrated how far things have progressed since my graduation in 2011. It was a huge success! I look forward to more growth of Family Medicine, and Primary Care Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at HMS.”

In an effort to continue that growth and meet rising student interest, the HMS FMIG is preparing a family medicine residency information session, and is sponsoring a talk in July by Dr. Karen Smith, a North Carolina based family physician who was featured for her innovative work in rural health at the 2015 American Academy of Family Physicians National Conference.