The reflections of students is often an amazing mirror in our lives. This past week, I attended a conference held by the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. Three student leaders of our Family Medicine Interest Group presented a perspective from millennials on what they thought family medicine was.

The room was packed with junior and senior family medicine faculty as well as other medical students, interested to hear the distillation of their thoughts about becoming a family doctor as a career. The audience was there to hear why so many of their medical school colleagues do not choose family medicine or other highly needed and underserved primary care areas.

It turns out medical students have a number of common misconceptions that make them choose other specialties with only 9 percent of graduating United States senior medical students entering family medicine. As a career family physician and educator, I was aware of many of these. The reputation that family medicine doctors treat only colds and minor illnesses, that it is unrewarding intellectually and financially, that somehow students are wasting their talents and education are some prevalent myths and part of a hidden curriculum.

What these students emphasized with enthusiasm and great clarity was that millennials who choose family medicine will satisfy their deepest personal, professional and social aspirations. They can find satisfaction in service to communities and individuals. They can balance the demands of work and lifestyle. With more unfilled positions and opportunities than any other medical field particularly in rural and underserved areas, work options are practically unlimited. They can have a rewarding and comfortable lifestyle and pay back their student loans. They can have variety of ways to express their interests and be free to innovate, invent and to inform the profession, their patients and their communities.

Global health and missionary opportunities abound. Sports medicine, geriatrics, adolescent medicine, palliative care, integrative medicine, sleep medicine, women’s health, operative obstetrics, a wide array of medical procedures, public health and more are all areas in which family medicine residency graduates may seek further training and practice opportunities according to their individual interests.

When I am asked to explain the core of family medicine, I echo the students’ report. Family medicine is a patient-centered specialty, which addresses the needs of people from womb to tomb, no matter what age, sex or medical status. It focuses on the whole person rather than a specific disease or organ system. We are wholistic, not partialists. It is complex, often messy. We encourage prevention, wellness, and lifestyle change while addressing the full spectrum of medical, emotional, and psychosocial needs of our patients. We work in teams and apply all potential therapeutic options and disciplines in the care of our patients.

Communities in which there is a family physician have reduced emergency room admissions and hospitalizations and lower health care costs compared to those in which the physicians are predominantly specialists.

Family physicians can be found practicing in rural areas, overseas, in cities and suburbs, emergency rooms, urgent cares, outpatient clinics and hospitals. You’ll see them in battlefields, at sports sidelines, and supervising teams of ski patrols and ambulance crews.

So if anyone asks you about who is your family doctor, I hope our students have given you a glimpse of the millennials’ future.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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