Last Friday, the medical community was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of pediatrician and primary care advocate Barbara Starfield, M.D., M.P.H. During her decades spent at Johns Hopkins, she authored and co-authored numerous studies on the value of primary care that provided proof that many of us believed in our hearts but couldn’t quantify—that patients are healthier and costs are lower in a system based on primary care.
However, her work provided more than just facts; it provided the footing for a movement to redesign the fragmented system to one that is better for patients. She inspired us to really take a look at family medicine’s contribution and advocate for its importance. The process has been slow, but her momentum kept it going.
Because of her tremendous contributions to health care research and patient care, several organizations have released poignant and appropriate statements in tribute that must be shared. The first is the full statement from Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., president of AAFP, and the second is an excerpt from Richard Roberts, M.D., J.D., president of the World Organization of Family Doctors.
A statement from Dr. Goertz:
“Patients throughout the world lost a dedicated advocate Friday, June 10, with the sudden death of Barbara Starfield, M.D., M.P.H. We have lost a committed scientist whose work focused the attention of policymakers and the entire health care community on meeting the needs of patients.
“As the University Distinguished Service Professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Medicine and as Director of its Primary Care Policy Center, Barbara was a tireless advocate for primary medical care. Her prolific research demonstrated that patients’ health, community health, and the nation’s health care system improved when people had access to primary medical care. She showed the world that family physicians’ expertise is essential to individual people, the communities where they live, and the soundness of the nation’s health care. She reminded family physicians why they chose their specialty—to help people improve the care they received and create a system that respected each person, regardless of their station in life. She painted a new vision for what family medicine could be and urged us to fulfill that vision.
“As a result, Barbara taught the nation that primary medical care is instrumental in turning the ship of health care policy toward a system that serves the needs of the people with efficiency. Her work earned her numerous awards, including the American Academy of Family Physicians’ highly prestigious John G. Walsh Award for Lifetime Contributions to Family Medicine. In giving the award, the AAFP cited Barbara’s dedicated, long-term and effective research in the advancement and development of family medicine.
“We will greatly miss Barbara Starfield’s energy, her commitment to building a system that serves patients and her leadership in teaching all of us about the value of the work we do. We have lost a good friend, an inspiring teacher and an exceptional researcher whose work helped make the world a better place for all of us.”
An excerpt from Dr. Roberts:
“She opened the eyes of family doctors to the considerable abilities we have, the weighty responsibilities we carry, and the unrealized possibilities we represent. She saw family doctors as the best hope for health care. Many times, she challenged our vision of what family medicine should look like, and nudged us to see further and clearer.
“She will be remembered for her passion for social justice, incisive intelligence, and incredible energy. Great people have an extraordinary vitality, which makes them seem immortal and lulls us into thinking we will have them forever. And then they are gone. The best tribute we can offer Barbara is to continue to work toward her vision of a world in which everyone has access to quality health care centered in a trusted relationship with a compassionate, competent, and comprehensive family doctor.”