On the shoulders of giants

Tags: presidents letter, december, Janet Hurley

An excerpt from the inaugural speech of the new TAFP President

By Janet Hurley, MD

Greetings friends, colleagues, staff, and family members. It is my honor to stand before you as our next TAFP President. As I watched Dr. Elliott receive this medallion last year, I thought of all of the leaders in the past who have worn this medallion before us. I am honored to receive the responsibility today, acknowledging that this medallion has been around the necks of many giants along the way before me.

My first TAFP meeting was in the summer of 1997, ironically also here in Galveston. I was a student, wandering lost around the conference hotel. I was impressed to feel so welcomed by the TAFP staff and physician leaders, like Dr. David Schneider, who was among my first Academy mentors.

I was surprised to see their passion for family medicine. This was a far cry from the family medicine I saw in medical school. As I continued to absorb the content of the meetings, I recognized that these physician leaders were a special bunch of people. Though I did not know any of them then, I later came to recognize them as the giants they truly are.

Leah Ray Mabry was the TAFP president that year, making a bit of a stir as only the second female president of the Academy. Under her wings was an up-and-coming leader named Lloyd Van Winkle, and right ahead of her were Roland Goertz and Jim Martin.

As I heard these leaders speak in various venues, I was impressed that they cared not only about their practice or their patients, but they also cared about the health of their communities, their state, and their nation. They seemed driven by a call to influence health care policy both in the legislative and private arenas to create positive changes for their patients back home and throughout their state. This was a call much bigger than I had ever seen and these were people who were passionate, articulate, and genuine. They inspired me to look beyond myself toward what can be accomplished when passionate physicians organize to do big things. They didn’t know me at all then but their inspiration captivated me.

Through the years, I watched these leaders move up to AAFP positions. I recall Dr. Martin in attendance at the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Students, speaking about the Future of Family Medicine Project. As he addressed that large crowd of young people, his passion was obvious and his delivery genuine. He was the kind of leader I hoped to be someday.

I met others along the way that helped keep me focused on the greatness of family medicine, such as Dr. C.H. Prihoda from Navasota, Texas. Dr. Prihoda served as my family medicine preceptor in the summer between my first and second years of medical school when I was participating in the Texas Family Medicine Preceptorship Program. This experience gave me a window into how family medicine truly shines in the community it serves, adapting to meet the needs of our neighbors.

Later in my third year of medical school, I had several attendings who tried to talk me out of family medicine, saying things about family medicine that simply weren’t true. In those times I set my mind back to Dr. Prihoda’s clinic. When I heard these mistruths, I was able to tell myself, “Oh no, no, no, this is not the family medicine I know.”

Thank you, Dr. Prihoda, for opening your practice to me so many years ago.

Through the years I grew in my knowledge and commitment. I found myself asking questions and offering the student and resident perspective when it seemed relevant. I learned how to run a meeting and learned about parliamentary procedure. I developed life-long friendships, and became a champion for my specialty.

I believe that family medicine’s time for resurgence is now. The giants who wore this medallion before me set the stage for what we can become.

Now what are we going to do with it? Do you believe as I do that family medicine is this nation’s best hope for a sustainable, practical, and financially sound health care system? Do you believe as I do that we are positioned well as a specialty to finally be valued for the work we do? Are you ready to transform your practices into something better than they had been, to do your part to make this health care system the best that it can be? If the answer is yes, then we must continue to act.

If family medicine truly is this nation’s best hope for to a sustainable health care system, and my leadership plays at least some tiny role in supporting that, then I hope we can agree that these efforts are worth it.

My question to you is simply this: is it worth it to you? Is leadership in family medicine worth your time? Do you believe as I do that family medicine is America’s best hope for a sustainable health care system? Do you believe as I do that family medicine is the primary care specialty most adaptable to the individual needs of different communities? Do you believe as I do that family medicine’s time for resurgence is now?” If you do believe it, what are you going to do about it?

I have heard our CEO, Tom Banning, say “Politics is the art of the possible.” Sometimes we find that more things are possible by moving outside of the Texas Legislature and appealing directly to employers, integrated health care groups, and insurers. While this is not a legislative year, there is much work to be done behind the scenes to prepare us well for next year. I will collaborate with TAFP staff to work on those things that matter most to family medicine and our patients.

TAFP will continue to train the next group of leaders through our leadership college, the Family Medicine Leadership Experience, and other venues with the goal to empower family physicians to lead locally in their clinics, health systems, communities, and hospital board rooms.

With those new skills comes a renewed commitment to embracing who we are, and proclaiming our value with boldness locally to administrators, specialists, students, and legislators. Remember the old saw: “All politics are local.” Let us never doubt the influence we can have locally.

I humbly accept this medallion today. As I do so, I remember those giants who have worn it before me. Thank you for this opportunity to serve as your TAFP President.

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