AMSA brings student conference to San Antonio medical school

Tags: american medical student association, san antonio, uthscsa, abraham, kumar, primary care progress, conference, student

AMSA brings student conference to
San Antonio medical school

By Samantha White

The American Medical Student Association held the Empowering Future Physicians Conference at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio this past October, bringing numerous leaders in the primary care world together to address medical students from around the country. The three-day event included speakers from various realms of medical education, from admissions to curriculum development, and engaged students through an exhibit fair and other activities.

Jerry Abraham, M.P.H.

Jerry Abraham, M.P.H., AMSA March Meeting 2013 chair and chair of the TAFP Section on Medical Students, is a third-year medical student at UTHSCSA and was heavily involved in the planning and executing of the AMSA conference. He says that this conference and similar events “build a community of committed physicians-in-training that lead to future collaborations, leadership development, and solutions to many of the challenges facing physicians and the health care system.” About 250 students attended the conference, according to Abraham.

Kaparaboyna Ashok Kumar, M.D., F.R.C.S., is a professor of family and community medicine at UTHSCSA and spoke to TAFP between conference events. Educating current students on what primary care truly is will encourage them the most to choose it as a path, Kumar says. He explains that while most medical school training takes place in a hospital, more focus must be placed on local mentors to spark medical student interest in primary care and ensure a strong primary care physician workforce in the future. Kumar serves as faculty advisor for the UTHSCSA Family Medicine Interest Group and works to bring community physicians to campus to talk about the ins and outs of being a primary care physician, hoping to show “happy role models” to students who are interested in a family medicine career.

Kaparaboyna Ashok Kumar
Kaparaboyna Ashok Kumar, M.D.

Having practiced as a primary care doctor himself for many years, Kumar says of his teaching strategies: “I can tell the real life stories. My students and residents get to see that. Teaching from books and medical school knowledge is different from really teaching them what the community needs.” Similarly, Abraham says that “there’s only so much you can learn in medical school,” on the importance of the AMSA conference.

FMIGs provide a positive venue to educate students about family medicine through meetings, procedural workshops, community service projects, and guest speaker events. The San Antonio FMIG is very active on the UTHSCSA campus and has won the AAFP Program of Excellence Award a total of five times. Kumar says they put on campus programs for students at least once a month and that all medical school students are allowed to attend, regardless of their interests, in hopes undecided students will be attracted to family medicine.

Another aspect of teaching students about primary care, according to Kumar, is making sure they understand that it is more than treating the common cold and cough. “Primary care is taking care of the whole person: prevention, multiple medical problems, and complex patients. It is a challenging specialty,” he says. “Prevention is very important and family medicine really gives that kind of training.”

Andrew Morris-Singer, M.D., is president and principal founder of the Boston-based organization Primary Care Progress, a nonprofit that aims to revive the primary care workforce pipeline with a “field-organizing model that engages clinicians, trainees, and educators,” according to their website. Morris-Singer spoke at the AMSA event on behalf of his organization.

Seeing the conference as an “opportunity to speak to the next generation of clinicians,” Morris-Singer attends and speaks at similar events to encourage medical school students who are usually otherwise discouraged from choosing a primary care path. “We have to provide support for the students that are interested in primary care careers. Student interest groups are wonderful, whether you call it a family medicine interest group, Primary Care Progress, whatever it is, it’s got to exist,” says Morris-Singer.

Kumar says that the AMSA conference and others like it are crucial to reversing the country’s primary care physician shortage because they expose students to “what primary care is in a more meaningful way than what they are learning in schools.” Introducing students to actual family physicians will remind them why they began medical school in the first place—to help people, explains Kumar. The conference not only allows students to meet and network with practicing family physicians, but also confronts them with some of the issues facing primary care doctors including quicker medical school debt recovery through payment reform and new models of primary care like the patient-centered medical home.

Morris-Singer says medical schools need to help solve the physician workforce shortage. “The medical schools have to really commit to recruiting a primary care workforce,” he says. “We’ve got to get [students] exposed to new models of primary care, we’ve got to get them mentored by people who are excited about primary care, and we’ve got to find the people that are discouraging them from primary care careers and steer them away from those folks.”

There is excitement around similar events across the country, says Morris-Singer, a sort of “wave,” as he describes it. “I think it’s going to be a slow initial climb and then it’s going to take off exponentially,” he says of the shortage ending.

All three see a bright future for the family medicine workforce, but realize there is still a considerable amount of work to do. The AMSA San Antonio conference and others like it across the country bring an abundance of momentum and energy to primary care and show that there are, indeed, students interested in the field. The battle of making sure interested students actually choose primary care as a specialty will continue, but events like this will contribute to building a strong physician workforce.