Living in a major metropolitan area means taking a lot of things for granted. Especially here in the Boston area, with its many renowned hospitals and universities, one can find physicians practicing and conducting research in specialties within specialties. Nothing seems too far out of reach. However, this city mouse recently traveled down the Blue Ridge Parkway for some R&R and to learn how the country mice work and play.
I was thrilled to meet up with a medical school friend who practices family medicine in a rural area a bit further south. We spent a lot of time catching up and reminiscing, of course, but we also did a fair amount of “shop talk.” Touring her office space, she shared with me some examples of what her typical day might be like. The pride in her voice was evident as she talked about what it means to be a family doctor. I was surprised to hear about all the office procedures done on site, as I think locally a lot of procedures here in the city are referred out to specialists. We hear so much about how medical students these days don’t want to go into primary care. Maybe they need to spend more time seeing what it truly means to be someone’s family doctor. Through blogging I’ve been touched by the words of some fantastic doctors who are living and sharing this life, but it was also wonderful to hear about the struggles and inspirations from my friend over lunch. “You know what I wish,” she said, “That people didn’t think you only go into primary care if you’re not smart enough to specialize.”
Maybe this sounds strange coming from a specialist, but I couldn’t be a bigger advocate of primary care. And the further I get away from my general internal medicine training, the more I’m struck by just how hard it is to have to keep up to date with ALL the body systems! Not only do I value the teamwork and co-management of the primary care providers I work with, but I want my OWN doctor too. Everyone is a patient, and don’t we all want someone to call “my doctor?” Having gone to medical school at an institution with a strong primary care commitment, I don’t think this value has ever been far from my mind. In fact, of my group of close friends from medical school, the majority are family doctors, one is a pediatric specialist and one is an internal medicine hospitalist. Then there’s me, in rheumatology, which I do love for the multi-system nature of many of the conditions I see.
Some medical student blogs I follow occasionally talk about “specialty bashing” or how residents and attendings they encounter put down other areas of medicine. Some have said, “Oh, I could never be a XXX doctor. How boring! What torture!” (Well, more colorful language may have been used, but you get the picture). I’m GLAD we all find some things boring and some things exciting. What if every medical student in the world wanted to practice in the same field? That wouldn’t work at all. This post didn’t start out as a love letter to primary care. My original intent was just to say thanks to my good friend for the visit and share some photos. But after thinking about it, I want to also say thanks to all the primary care internists and family docs for what they do. Thanks for inspiring my friends and colleagues, who will hopefully be able to inspire today’s medical students to follow in their footsteps.