Lessons from the past guide the future

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An excerpt from the inaugural address of TAFP’s new president

By Melissa Gerdes, M.D.
TAFP President, 2010-2011

As your president for the next year, I will live and advance our vision and mission. I will be your faithful servant, listener, and even cheerleader. Fortunately, I have some experience in each of these roles. I am sure you have heard of the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I like to say much of what I really need to know to be a family physician, I learned before medical school.

My very first job at McDonald’s prepared me well for service. I was born in Chicago where the famous Hamburger University is located. Consequently, I got to work with many young recently trained managers for the company. McDonald’s is actually all about brand recognition and service, concepts I very much respect and push forward in my job today.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in communication studies, an unusual major for a pre-med student, but I found it extremely helpful in learning how to listen to people. It also helped me to understand human behavior and group behavior, tools I still use every day. While in college, I got my practice as a cheerleader for the Northwestern Wildcats. Drawing from non-medical experiences and from those around you (sometimes those not in medicine) is a good strategy to maintain a positive attitude as we do our challenging work.

I take the Academy’s vision statement seriously. It states: “The Texas Academy of Family Physicians is dedicated to the promotion of a health care environment that values the vital role of family physicians in providing quality, comprehensive care to all Texans.” I helped rewrite it with several other members of the Academy a few years ago and our board approved the final statement. There are five major areas where we need to focus over the next year: recognition and promotion, communication, education, advocacy, and workforce development.

Our recently rewritten mission statement gives us specific guidance in how the Academy can assist our members in these areas: The Texas Academy of Family Physicians unites the family physicians of Texas through advocacy, education and member services, and empowers them to provide a medical home for patients of all ages.

The promotion of a health care environment that values the vital role of family physicians starts at home. I will help the Academy work through its many arms to appreciate and publicize the caring, personal, tireless work our physicians do every day. The Academy and your fellow physicians tremendously value the work done by family physicians. We are very fortunate to have the privilege of being such an intimate part of our patients’ lives. We get to connect with people and help them achieve their personal health goals every day.

Melissa Gerdes, M.D., of Whitehouse is sworn in as TAFP Presidnet by past AAFP President Jim Martin, M.D.

Yet, many family physicians do this work tirelessly without sufficient reward simply because they love it. It would be nice to receive some external validation for the great work Texas’ family physicians do. Sometimes we just need to show it a little better or more often. We need to promote the wonderful work our members do each and every day. Apply for an award. Nominate a colleague for an award. Say thank you. Let your community know what you do. Donate time or money to what you believe in. The power of positivity is a strong force that we as family physicians should harness.

TAFP will take the lead, informing its members about our rapidly changing health care environment. In the very near future, all Texas family physicians will be wrestling with the vast changes that are upon the national health care scene. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is long, large, and with far-reaching implications for our future. We anticipate confusion and even fear, but also opportunities over the next five to six years in family medicine. Again, TAFP is committed to helping Texas family physicians navigate through the bill and its provisions in a real way. The medical home is a huge part of this reform. TAFP will guide members through the vast research outcomes and help them apply lessons to their own practices.

Our Academy will continue to provide first-class education for our members, a tradition of which we should be very proud. Our members’ educational needs will be broader than ever in the coming years. Not only will they need basic and clinical science, but practice management, practice transformation, electronic health record guidance, financial management, even career advice. As physicians’ needs broaden, TAFP will be at the leading edge, providing the answers and education in these new areas.

We must focus more than ever on our advocacy efforts. The next legislative session is going to be challenging with redistricting and budgetary concerns occupying much of our legislators’ time. However, we will remain strong advocates of our discipline and patients’ needs. We have some decisions to make as an Academy. Where do we stand on scope of practice? The practice landscape is changing. Nurse practitioners are seeking independent practice in Texas. Many of our members work with nurse practitioners today. How about the corporate practice of medicine? Our members work in very diverse practice arrangements in this state. Independent practitioners may have very different needs and concerns than do physicians employed by larger health systems. Over this next year, through proactive, respective, honest dialogue, we need to form the answers to these questions together.

Finally, let’s talk about workforce. We face a severe shortage of family physicians today and much more in the future. The population of Texas is exploding, and unfortunately, the population of family physicians is not. I am proud of the advocacy work our Academy has done in the past, including the recent passage of a very robust loan repayment program, which will certainly help. We depend upon our colleagues in academic institutions and the insight of our resident and student members to guide our Academy in ways to attract new students to family medicine. Perhaps we need to reach students earlier than medical school, maybe in junior high and high school. Payment reform would certainly be helpful, but I do not think we need to wait for this reform to act. There are other motivators for students in choosing specialties. We need to understand and employ these motivators in new ways. The tide is definitely turning in our favor nationally, and we should ride it with the natural innovation of our members.

I will meet these challenges over the next year as your president. I have the benefit of having a superb team of officers and I am confident we will achieve our goals. We count on all of you to be part of that team. As I mentioned earlier, we are, as people, composites of our experiences and relationships with others who have influenced us. Get involved: get to know your colleagues, influence people.

Those who know me well will know that Walt Disney is a hero of mine and has been from a very young age. Today I do a little more serious Disney reading. One of my favorite books, “If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9½ Things You Would Do Differently,” discusses how using Disney’s principles of customer service can be applied in the health care industry to improve patient experiences. As I embark on this next year, I would like to live the words of Mr. Disney: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Meet TAFP’s new president, Melissa Gerdes, M.D.

Melissa Gerdes, M.D., is the medical director of Trinity Clinic in Whitehouse, Texas, and a staff physician at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler. She previously served as an associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, where she also completed her family medicine residency. Gerdes received a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and received her medical degree from Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Ill.

Gerdes’ practice was one of 36 chosen for TransforMED’s National Demonstration Project, a two-year pilot to determine whether patient-centered care would improve quality of care, physician satisfaction, and practice performance in the primary care setting. Gerdes’ practice emerged as a star and, after NDP concluded in 2008, she continues to mentor other family medicine practices interested in implementing TransforMED’s practice redesign recommendations.

Gerdes has been a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians since 1992 and a member of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians since 1996. Within TAFP, she has served as Chair of the Commission on Membership, on the Executive Committee from 1998-1999 and 2004-2005, and as Chair of the Section on Resident Affairs from 1998-1999, as well as the Section on Special Constituencies.

Follow TAFP President Melissa Gerdes, M.D., on Twitter: Go to www.twitter.com/TAFP_President to sign up to follow her weekly tweets about issues important to family physicians. Also, don’t forget that TAFP has a Twitter page. Go to www.twitter.com/txfamilydocs and click “follow” to stay up to date on all Academy activities.

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