On this edition of Alumni Chatter, I caught up with Meredith Baumgartner, a fourth-year medical student, soon to be graduate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria. Meredith matched in to Family Medicine and will be starting her residency at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in July.
Meredith has demonstrated excellence, integrity and growth throughout her medical school career. When I am asked by medical students what differentiates family physicians from other types of physicians, I respond with one simple answer – We are the physicians who respond to the needs of our patients and community. Meredith fits the mold of an aspiring family physician by embodying this quality by how she has responded to patients and the Peoria community as a medical student.
KW: Thanks, Meredith, for sharing some time with me and our readers. When I interact with you and your fellow colleagues, I get excited about the future of medicine because of the passion you all display for patients, your social consciousness, and your broad view of medicine. I am curious, what does medicine, in general, look like from your perspective?
MB: I think of medicine as a public health intervention towards overall health and well-being. For me, medicine needs to be three things:
- Responsive to the needs of our community, which means we need to know what those needs are.
- Accessible. We need to ensure access to the services that we create and really consider what “access” actually means for our community members. Unloading the term “access” can lead us to more deeply investigate affordability, availability, appropriateness of care.
- Comprehensive. We need to recognize that in medicine we are not in a silo. So, when thinking about medicine and how to really impact health, we need to also think about our partners in the community who are also doing amazing things to promote health and well-being. Sometimes the best things we can do and provide in clinic may not have anything to do with physical healthcare at all. It is knowing both the reach and the narrowness of medicine and helping patients to connect to other needed resources.
KW: Is this thinking the reason you chose Family Medicine?
MB: Absolutely! I have always thought of Family Medicine as Community Medicine. I do not think that it is necessarily how everyone views it and it certainly broadens the scope of practice. In Family Medicine, we are lucky to both work with individuals and address their healthcare needs and we get to see how a population’s health looks overall. This dual vantage point affords FM practitioners the opportunity to act at the level of the individual and the community. FM doctors can serve individuals by providing high quality health care and connecting them to needed community resources. Additionally, Family Medicine doctors then have the fortune and privilege to share the trends and community needs we identify to advocate for larger-scale policy changes.
KW: The Second Annual Health Disparities Forum, which you are a co-founder, happens in April. How has your perspective of medicine, that you just shared, shaped the idea of the forum?
MB: I am really excited about the forum. The first forum was lead by myself and James Smith (2018 UICOMP graduate), who has a background in public health, went into family medicine and is very passionate about community medicine. We both were so impressed by the work being done at the local public health department. As James and I started talking, we discussed multiple public health interventions underway in the community and how clinical students and organizations are not always aware of everything that was available/being accomplished. Our goal was to bring together individuals across disciplines, promote education and awareness on health disparities topics and then support efforts translating awareness to action. It is exciting to see and showcase the relationships that develop between students/faculty and community organizations and to build on the energy and passion of these connections.
KW: With the first forum occurring last year, how were you able to get some of those points across particularly to your classmates?
MB: This year we are focusing on many of the same topics as last year (sexual health, food insecurity, community partnerships) but the workshops are focusing on how to move that one-step forward. For example, once we identify poor sexual health in our population, we can then develop tangible skills/resources to have effective discussions about reproductive health and social history in the clinic visit. This is just one piece of the puzzle, but let us build some skills around that! This year we will also have a panel on disability. This topic is often not discussed throughout medical education and can contribute significantly to health disparity. For this workshop, participants include both parents of disabled people and disabled children. We hope to learn from their experience and better understand their interactions with healthcare. Overall, we are hoping to provide different perspectives and promote professional development centered around disparity and how we effect change.
KW: One of the many virtues of family medicine is the fact that as family physicians we get to connect with our patients in ways that allow us to realize there are other factors that affect a person’s health, not only the person but also those around them. Family medicine in not this discipline centered around a specific body of knowledge or technique, it is really centered around the person (and their support system) and whatever problem they may have. Why is it important that we understand and elicit the social determinants of health of our patients?
MB: If we view health/wellbeing on a 100 point scale, we know individual behavior and social/environmental factors contribute 60%; while direct health care accounts for only 10-20% of health. If our goal is health and we are driven by that passion, we will not see success if we confine ourselves to that 10-20%. We need to work to understand the greater community, education, economic and social factors that influence our populations.
It can be hard and daunting in a clinic visit to think that you have to address a certain health problem knowing there are other/bigger health disparity issues that may need to be addressed. We can be overwhelmed by the scope. But if we want to effect change and feel like our careers are rewarding, this can only be achieved by tackling some of the social determinants. As a starting point, in the clinic visit, we can begin by using developed/standardized tools to assess problems and ensure we are aware of and can provide access to resources that respond to identified needs.
KW: As you look beyond residency, what impact do you hope to make as a family physician?
MB: When I applied to medical school, my motto was think big, start small and grow. I get most of my energy and excitement from local action. I hope to work in a community health center, working with patients and help with the community activities. On a larger scale, I would love to work with a county health department. It is gratifying to be able to see local change and to create policies that reflect what you see in the community. When needed, I am hoping I will have the ability and energy to move issues of importance to the state level. Additionally, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how our medical societies and affiliation groups function, to know that when a need is identified that is larger than city level, how can I bring that forward to be a positive advocate in that way.
Calling All UICOMP Grads who are Family Physicians
Alumni Chatter is a forum designed to reach and connect with UICOMP graduates who are family physicians and/or graduates from the UICOMP Family Medicine Residency Program. This platform will be used to interview former and current students and residents. I would love to share with our readers and your fellow classmate alums where you are, what you are doing, and the impact you are having on the communities you serve. If you are interested, let me know on our Facebook page or Instagram. I hope to talk to you on the next addition of Alumni Chatter!