Why (not) Family Medicine? Elizabeth G. (Libby) Baxley, MD:

Why (not) Family Medicine? is a series of posts from health care thought leaders, both inside and outside of Family Medicine. These will be posted every Friday. The participants were asked to focus on whatever they wanted in response to this question. We are glad that so many of these impressive leaders were willing to participate, and we hope that you enjoy their responses!

Four generations. Four generations of the same family. Not once, but many times in my practice lifetime.  A two-month well child visit in one exam room, followed immediately by caring for the elderly matriarch of this clan during her post-hospital follow-up visit. The matriarch’s grand-daughter wraps up her daughter’s newborn check by sharing with concerns about how her grandmother has been doing since being hospitalized. “She’s awfully weak, Dr. Baxley. Mom is doing everything she can to care for her at home and still keep her job. I am trying to help, too. We know her time is short. We’ll miss her so much when she is gone.”  As I enter the matriarch’s exam room, her quiet and tired voice mumbles “Did you see that beautiful great-grandbaby girl? I get to hold her sometimes. It gives me hope about my family’s future. I have a good family. They take care of me.”

In the next room, a young man in his 30s is in for an asthma recheck and med refill. He and his wife were in my practice before they married. Some years later, I cared for them during the pregnancy and delivery of a healthy baby boy, now 6 years old. They have since divorced, but are effectively co-parenting with each focused squarely on their son’s growth and development. He talks to me about the upcoming wedding of his ex-wife, and how he will be able to join the ceremony and support his son. He wants reassurance that they are doing the right things despite the situation.

The preventive care and medical issues are interesting and sometimes challenge me to learn and grown as a physician. But, the privilege to care for families through life transitions is what I love about being a family physician. Their stories, and the relationships that grew over time, have enriched my life more than any of the medicine.


Elizabeth G. (Libby) Baxley, MD is the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Family Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. She is also the Chair-Elect for the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM)

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