Member of the Month:
Marian Allen, MD
Houston-area physician describes the energy of medical education and patient care
By Kate Alfano
Marian Allen, MD, is a family physician with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group in Spring, Texas. With more than 30 years in practice in the Houston area, she sees patients of all ages. She is married and has a college-age daughter who is considering medicine. Dr. Allen earned her medical degree and completed her residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Why did you choose family medicine as your specialty?
When I was in my 20s the image I had of practicing medicine was one of knowing the person and knowing their family, working in an outpatient setting in the office. That’s the type of medicine I envisioned, and that was family medicine.
Who or what inspired you to pursue medicine?
That’s a tough one because I didn’t have mentors, though now I encourage medical students to find and nurture mentors; most physicians are willing to be a mentor, you just have to ask. Even though I had already chosen medicine and primary care, I was inspired by the energy of the patient care in the medical school and residency settings. The faculty seemed excited about what they were doing, they seemed happy to have students there. When you walked into that setting you felt wanted. It was welcoming. Had I not felt that I may have been discouraged or looked for something different.
What brings you joy in your career?
Definitely teaching students. Definitely working with colleagues that have that energy I described. Definitely having more of a long-term relationship with my patients. I’m excited when I see folks I’ve known for a long time. I’ve been in this general area of north Houston since the 1990s but I’ve moved around a little bit, and there have been a few people who have followed me from practice to practice or who moved away for a period of time and returned. That brings me joy.
Why is it important to be a member of TAFP/AAFP?
Personally when I go to TAFP or AAFP meetings and see people I know in small sessions or other settings I get a lot of that energy that I shared with you. It revives that for me. If I’m around my peers who are in the day-to-day grind and not necessarily happy with what they’re doing or who struggle with difficulties like staff issues or supply, whatever it is in the day-to-day, it is easy to get mired down in the negativity and the difficulties of practicing. When you are with someone who has worked in a different setting but knows where you’re coming from, that’s often very uplifting.
What do you do for fun outside of medicine?
My wife Deborah and I have an RV and we like to go camping and hiking; we like being outdoors and we like the fresh air. In the fall we went to Glenwood Springs, Colo. The Colorado River runs through the town and one of the major draws is the hot springs there. It’s a deep pool kind of like Barton Springs but with hot water in it. There’s a beautiful hike, three miles one way, to where water comes out of the ground and has carved out a lake on the side of the mountain. It’s pretty steep but it’s absolutely beautiful.
Have you read a good book lately?
Yes — The Caine Munity by Herman Wouk. It was written in 1951 and later adapted to a movie starring Humphrey Bogart. It’s about a young man, an only child from a relatively wealthy family, who is assigned to a ship in World War II. Through his journey you see him grow and mature. But the captain of the ship is a poor leader, so when they are in dire straits the crew organizes a mutiny. Of course you can’t just mutiny in the military when your commanding officer is poor and they are court martialed. I could relate to struggles with a superior with whom you disagree. And also my parents were both in the Navy at roughly the same time period of the book’s setting and close to the main character’s age. My mother was stationed in Pearl Harbor after the bombing and served as a supply officer. The book is thick but it’s a good read.
What advice would you give to a medical student who is on the fence about family medicine?
From a financial perspective it appears that the health care system and payment provisions are beginning to center more on making primary care physicians directors of health. We know patients do better when they have someone they can trust to advise them of what they need or don’t need and give that counsel in an office setting rather than an acute care setting like the emergency room. So the esteem of a family physician, while it has always been there, is increasing. Plus there are lots of applications in family medicine in addition to just patient care. A student would be a good fit for family medicine if the energy and diversity of skills it requires seem appealing.
You’ve talked a lot about the “energy” of family medicine. Can you describe this further?
It is what happens between the patients and physicians, between students and teachers; one is exchanging joy, exchanging optimism, enjoying time spent from that interaction. In family medicine you have the time to really get to know someone and their whole picture of health, and you can course correct if needed because hopefully you’re seeing that person over a period of time. I see that as a strength.
You have also served several times as the Family Physician of the Day at the state Capitol during legislative sessions. What message do you have for others about the program?
I’ve served as Physician of the Day three times now and I have taken my students. The students really appreciate the experience because it’s different from being in the office, less of a burden with taking histories, etc. They have gotten to interact with Ginger McGalin, the nurse practitioner there, and see the political process up close. For me, the program introduces me to individuals who may have a different political philosophy than I do. It allows me to think about how I can approach them and how we can mutually serve each other. My representative has now introduced me twice and even though our politics are not aligned I intend to ask him to visit my practice and meet the staff to better understand what the practice of medicine is like.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.