By Jake Whetzel, MD
Recently our residency program has wrapped up another interview season, meeting to review our applicants (and potential future friends and colleagues) to complete our rank list to submit for the Match in March. It is nearly impossible to meet and get to know each applicant as a resident due to rotation schedules limiting your availability to participate in the interviews, or you get caught up in a conversation with one interesting applicant and might miss out on the chance to meet another. Our process allows us to revisit each application and hear from others in the program who had a chance to interact with these future physicians and hear how diverse our applicant pool was, with people coming from all parts of the country, each with different backgrounds and experiences, all ready to become a Family Physician. Being only a couple years removed from going through a similar process, I can still relate to the stress and excitement of choosing my future career. Reviewing our most recent group of applicants has caused me to reflect on my journey to Family Medicine and answer the question – How did I get here?
This blog has included a number of pieces last summer/fall that asked writers to answer the question – Why (not) Family Medicine? This was a slightly different version of a question that always seemed to come up during the interview process – Why Family Medicine? To me, the answer is probably the same for both. A career in medicine probably first developed in my mind around middle school, and was based on some great interactions I had with providers early on in my life. I was so impressed with their knowledge and ability to reassure us if things were fine or “fix” things if they weren’t. Initially, I remember thinking Radiology would be kinda cool. It seemed that this just involved looking at pictures and trying to solve the puzzle. As life progressed through high school and college, my thoughts shifted and started to include more about what type of lifestyle I wanted, what would give me fulfillment in life and where I wanted to live. The first and last questions were easy. I knew I wanted to live in a small town, evident within about a week of moving to the “city” of Helena, MT (population estimated just over 30,000 in July 2015) for undergrad. I also knew that I needed to be located in close proximity to mountains that I could escape to when I would need to decompress. And Montana will always be home.
Next came the decisions to find a career in medicine that allowed me to return home, a lifestyle so that I could enjoy it, and provide fulfillment in my life. This is where I came to Family Medicine. I would argue basic healthcare is a human right and that any small town community without a provider is underserved in this aspect, whether the next physician is only twenty miles away or one hundred. Without a local provider, chances are people just won’t go to see one until it’s an emergency. This may be due to inconvenience of travel, lack of funds or lack of trust in an outsider. The reason most of us are in primary care is to prevent these “train-wrecks” from occurring. To be truly beneficial to a community like these, I believe you have to be a local. They want someone who is a member of their community, a familiar face they can trust and turn to when they need it the most. When choosing a career, I felt that Family Medicine gave me the best chance at filling this void for a small town. I wanted to be able to take care of all the community members and develop those trusting relationships so that when a patient needs their care to be escalated, they can believe that the decision is in their best interest and consistent with their wishes.
One of the greatest things about Family Medicine is that no two paths are the same. Your career can lead you to urgent care, to academics, or to a hospitalist position. Family Medicine provides you with a base to mold your own choice that allows you to hopefully find that dream job that not only gives you the opportunity to make a major difference in other people’s lives, but also gives you a sense of fulfillment in your life. To the future physicians waiting for the Match, I wish you luck and hope that you are able to find that path to your own version of professional success.
Jake Whetzel, MD is a second year Family Medicine Resident in the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.