The true meaning of family medicine

Tags: texas family physician, perspective, family medicine, elliott

By Tricia C. Elliott, M.D., F.A.A.F.P.
Program Director, Baylor College of Medicine Kelsey-Seybold Clinic Family Medicine Residency Program

I am a family physician. In fact, I absolutely love being a family physician!

In my 10 years of practice, 10 years of academic medicine, years as an associate residency director and now program director, my background in inner-city, underserved medicine advocating for patients’ health and social justice, and my involvement with the Academy on the local, state and the national level, what is it really all about?

It is about people. It’s about the individual, families, and communities—locally, statewide, nationally, and globally. We are all a part of a community and that community is a part of us. It’s about people and their stories.

It’s about the 95-year-old widower, Nathan, who is still very active as the rabbi at the local synagogue down the street and who lost his wife of nearly 70 years one year prior, who wishes to express his gratitude for the care he and his wife received and endearingly asks, “Hey [Doctor Elliott], you wanna come over for some coffee?”

It’s about the 28-year-old Nuyorican single mom of two, born and raised in the Bronx, who sits in my office collapsed by tears and grief as I inform her of her diagnosis of AIDS with a CD4 count of 7. It’s about that same mother three years later, who now with tears of joy, clasps my hands saying, “You saved my life and gave my kids back their mother.”

It’s about being a part of the joy and miracle of birth and also seeing the humor of a laboring mother bring her husband literally to his knees by forcibly gripping his midsection during a contraction with the strength only imagined of fictitious superheroes, while yelling, “You did this to me!” It’s about prying her petite hands, with knuckles so pale from her incredible grip, while attending to the delivery of their beautiful baby and also consoling and comforting her husband, as he stands, tending his wound, in shock at the sudden transformation of his demure, quiet, mild-mannered, school-teacher wife.

It’s about caring for a soldier and his family at Fort Hood Army base in 2003 and being notified by a sudden pounding on my clinic door that the United States had launched an offensive against Iraq and the war had begun, and seeing the stoicism and commitment to duty in a soldier’s face along with the devastation and fear in his wife’s eyes as they are both hit with the reality of this news.

It’s about the stunningly beautiful 93-year-old African-American woman with hypertension on a fixed income, who enters my exam room in 4-inch heels and her Sunday best, compelling me by her mere presence to know her story and to spend far beyond the allotted 15 minutes. I am engrossed and intrigued by her story: being one of the first Fulbright scholars, speaking fluent Italian, traveling the world as an international opera singer, and teaching music for 40-plus years at one of our historic black universities.

It’s about a home visit to provide emotional support and counseling to a family struggling with the end-of-life issues for their dying loved one.

Again, it is about people. These are just a few of their stories.

I count it a daily privilege to share in these stories and also a privilege to teach and inspire future family physicians to take the time to listen to our patients’ stories. This is what it is all about.

I am a family physician. We are family physicians.

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