More than “JUST A FAMILY”, DOCTOR”

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Close up of a young family at a Pediatrician's Office

No matter if you’re a medical student, a health professional, or an attending doctor, you’ll at some time or another hear someone tell you, “They’re just a family doctor.”

The phrase has lasted through the years and is still frequently heard – on our streets, in our emergency departments, and even within family medicine clinics. I’ve heard variants of this saying from attending physicians who have been employed in Canada and overseas. I’ve heard it from my colleagues as well as good-hearted acquaintances. I’ve received it from family members of patients. Most likely, so do you.

The profession of family physicians as well as the field that is family medicine has been denigrated all too often. While we’re adamant about how primary, comprehensive health care is the backbone of our system of health and essential to its efficient delivery, however, we continue to hear demeaning comments about how it’s the simple, easy, and straightforward medical career path.

Sometimes it’s disguised as a compliment. Many of my colleagues from family medicine have been told that we’re “too smart” and “too hardworking” to practice family medicine. However, saying this implies that family physicians are “less skilled” and “less efficient.”

Maybe it’s due to the fact that the role of a family doctor isn’t as well understood or maybe they’ve had no exposure to it during their education or as a patient. The truth is that caring for an undifferentiated patient with growing medical complexity is no easy job. Our practice extends far beyond the office. Family physicians are holistic medical professionals. That’s… everything. Every system that is in existence, at every age, each degree of acuity, each emotion, each communication environment All of it. You can’t be less than smart and dedicated to becoming a family doctor. Additionally, you must be efficient and thorough and professional and humble, an unwavering advocate. expert in communicating, with an in-depth understanding of…well… quite a number of things!

The definition of “the hidden curriculum’ – is, what is taught but is not always explicitly taught and covers the subtleties of learning through experience, socialization, and transmission of knowledge. The more we are told and allow remarks to be made of our family medicine colleagues as if they are less important doctors as a result, we are taking away the amazing job they provide for us all.

Change in the way that promotes tertiary care specialists and denigrates family physicians is going to take the time and energy of all. We all are cogs on the same wheel. None of us can function if one of us is damaged. If I meet with someone in a location which isn’t their physician’s office or clinic I usually say that I am happy they are blessed with a family physician and how fortunate it is that they’re blessed to be able to call one. I often make positive remarks regarding their doctor’s family and the amount of effort they are – and I trust them.

I’ve seen allied health doctors and attending physicians also make a few snide remarks. My approach involves gently making corrections, by describing some of the issues facing family doctors, that the doctor may not have known about.

If I learn that medical students would like to pursue family medicine, then I give positive remarks and tell students about how awesome the choice they have made is.

I write this with the hope that other people (and I hope you!) will be able to do the same. We could use the secret curriculum and positive role models to challenge these false views and substitute them with ones that recognize what our family doctors do.