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Why One Navy Medical Officer Loves Family Medicine

Posted Jun 06 2011 5:04pm

“Family Physicians are the bedrock of U.S. healthcare.” – Dr. Andy Baldwin

Why I LOVE Family Medicine

Guest Post by Andrew Baldwin, MD

I’ve been a leader all my life, from Swim Team Captain, to Student Council President, to being a lead physician of our Navy Special Operations Team. I want to continue being a leader for Family Medicine on the front lines of health care. This is why -

Growing up in small town Pennsylvania in the heart of Amish Country, our Family Physician Dr. Grey, was a mentor to me and my ideal of what a “doctor” was supposed to be. Our entire family saw him for our medical care. We would also see him around town at the grocery store or at the movies. He would say hi, ask us how we were feeling, how school was going, or how I was doing on the swim team. In a way, he *was* part of our family. I always admired that about him and as a good student who liked helping others, I set out to follow in his footsteps.

Through the years I excelled in academics and athletics, studied at excellent universities, competed professionally in Ironman Triathlons, and worked with brilliant colleagues and teachers. I was enticed and encouraged to specialize in medicine, to join top practices in prestigious hospitals, and secure financial success.

Instead, I thank the United States Navy for giving me perspective. I thank the Navy for taking me back to rural areas, this time to developing nations on humanitarian missions and showing me again why I first pursued medicine – to be a part of the community, to treat entire families, to help prevent illness, to educate on healthy lifestyles, to be a family physician.

Years of dive, recovery, submarine, humanitarian and rescue operations with the Navy throughout the Pacific, Africa, Central and South America provided me irreplaceable experiences and personal growth. Despite these exciting adventures and previous enticements of a lucrative, prestigious specialty career my desire emulate Dr. Grey prompted my plan to train in a Family Medicine residency program.

My training in Family Medicine was put on hold again, though, when in 2008 the Surgeon General of the Navy requested I come to Washington, D.C. The specific purpose was to lead a recruiting effort for Navy Medicine since Navy numbers of primary care physicians was dangerously low. It was an honor to spearhead this effort for two years, traveling the country speaking on opportunities in Navy Medicine and primary care. Having previously spent time on television and learning ‘the ropes’ of public relations and media, I helped reshape how we reached out to potential physicians through social media. We also established integration between Navy recruiting efforts, public affairs, and Navy Medicine.

During my time in Washington, D.C., I also had the honor of working with the U.S. Surgeon General on his efforts fighting childhood obesity and also became an advocate for the First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign. I gave the keynote speech at the National Meeting of the American Academy of Cardiology, speaking on the importance of prevention and wellness and how to use social media to engage more young physicians.

I was also honored to speak along with several U.S. Senators to the National Health Occupations Students Association at the U.S. Capitol. In Spring 2009, I testified before the U.S. Senate alongside former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Safeway CEO Steve Burd about preventive health practices and the importance of health and wellness measures in the Health Care Bill. These experiences in Washington D.C. and incredible mentors within the White House, Navy, and Department of Health and Human Services taught me the importance of effective political representation and leadership for organizations such as AAFP on Capitol Hill.

I am currently in my second year of residency at the Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton (NHCP).

It is my privilege to take care of U.S. Marines, Navy shipmates, and their families. The small-town feel of this community-sized hospital, the continuity of care we have with our patients, and the opportunity to counsel regarding healthy lifestyles has been incredibly rewarding.

In addition to my duties as a resident, I continue large-scale activism as well as activities at my facility promoting heath and wellness. I serve as the National Ambassador for the ING Kids Rock running program that facilitates running programs in schools. So far, this program has sponsored and lead over 20,000 children running races throughout the country each year. Within NHCP, I am leading a research study directed at the entire health care team -physicians, other health care providers, and ancillary staff – investigating current knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about wellness teaching and lifestyle education for our patients.

It is my hypothesis that our move to the medical home model will allow more counseling and education to be done by all members of the health care team. I believe we can incorporate close follow up, detailed activity and diet plans, and better time and resource utilization. I am also in the process of setting up a dedicated wellness center at NHCP where patients can get further counseling on diet, activity, and mental health support.

Family Physicians are the bedrock of U.S. healthcare.

Nearly one-fourth of all U.S. office visits are made to family physicians. That equates to 208 million office visits each year — nearly 83 million more than the next medical specialty.

Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. However, there are grave concerns that there are and will be enough family physicians to continue adequate health care for the U.S. citizenry. The number of students entering family medicine residency training has fallen to 1/3 of what is was in 1998 according to National Residency Matching Program data. 55 family medicine residency programs have closed since 2000, while only 28 programs have opened.

I care passionately about the future health of our citizens and want to ensure that we have enough Family Physicians. I want to help by leading a recruiting campaign similarly to what I did for Navy Medicine.

I want to help to put Family Medicine on the forefront of our youth’s mind as what a “doctor” truly is, just as Dr. Grey did for me.

With my growing background as a Family Physician, I want to be on the front line of health care policy in this country. I want to ensure Family Medicine rises to the top in numbers and quality of physicians.

I want to be able to at times take a moment to pause, reflect, and think back to small town Pennsylvania, to my original concept of a “doctor”, and to good ‘old Dr. Grey — and think he is proud of me as I whisper “thank you.”

About the author

Andrew Baldwin, MD

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Andrew Baldwin, M.D. is a physician, humanitarian, U.S. Navy diver and media personality currently serving as a family medicine resident at the Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

Dr. Baldwin assisted the U.S. Surgeon General with a program called Healthy Youth for a Healthy Future and currently serves as an advocate for the Let’s Move Campaign , headed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Both of these programs target childhood overweight and obesity.

Dr. Baldwin is active in charitable and humanitarian efforts. He is founder of the Got Your Back Network , a 501(c)(3) foundation that provides an avenue for the children of fallen soldiers to learn and be inspired by the most successful leaders of our generation.

Your turn

We would love to hear your insightful thoughts and comments.  What is your relationship like with your family physician?

For the medical professionals – are you a medical student trying to decide your specialty?  Are you a family physician?  What are the most rewarding experiences you have encountered as a family physician?

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