In Defense of Family Medicine
by Evan Bischoff, OMS-III, outgoing ACOFP 2022–23 Student Governor
Family Medicine is such a broad field. It encompasses the stickers given out at the end of a well-child visit to the calm explanation of a heart failure diagnosis at the end of life. From the wilds of Montana to the city streets of Philadelphia, family medicine physicians work in all environments, in all conditions, and under all matters of circumstances. We have been there for it all, the births, the deaths, the triumphs, and the tragedies.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” – Fred Rodgers
I was recently talking to a fellow student about family medicine. She is a wonderful, bright student thinking about going into surgery or something equivalent. We were working at the rural medicine clinic together and she was incredibly frustrated at the patients that day. She said, “I have a hard time with these patients. They are sick because of the choices they make and they refuse to make changes.”
I sat with that statement for a long time. It frustrated me to no end! I do not blame her for these feelings. I think physicians are frustrated every day with the choices that patients and by extension the community make. Yet, it felt like she was saying family physicians have no agency or impact. Why would you choose a career where you work so hard and yet see no tangible results?
“Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All parenting. All relationships. Love, or the lack of it.” – Fred Rodgers
It was hard for me. I questioned my previous notions about Family Medicine. The next day, I worked with a Family Medicine resident treating a patient with a heart issue. The resident took the time to draw a heart, explained how it works, and how his medicine would help him. The patient began to cry, “Nobody has ever sat down and explained this to me.”
I think our greatest tool in Family Medicine is not medicine, OMT, or some amazing surgery. I believe it to be empathy. The patients who apparently chose to be sick may not have been shown enough grace to be taught correctly. The patients who are difficult to work with may not feel listened to. I firmly believe that Family Medicine is the best specialty to provide patients with the empathy and kindness they so desperately need. I am not naïve to the struggles of the modern physician seeing as they are overworked, jaded, and burnt out beyond compare. Perhaps some self-empathy may be needed as the first step in our own healing.
Thank you all for the honor of being your ACOFP Student Governor this past year. I wish you all more than luck.
“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” – Fred Rodgers