Clockwise: UMKC Family Medicine residents Ben Wilkerson, MD; Kelly O'Brien, MD; Jennifer Groner, MD; and Valerie Duff, DO, study obstetrics and gynecology.

Working on the front line of patient care

UMKC family medicine residents fill vital role in community health

Coleen Davis found her calling early in life. "I knew ever since I was little that I liked taking care of people," said Davis, a 2009 graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Medicine. Her first inclination was to become a nurse. Then her high school counselor suggested she look into the six-year program at UMKC.

The more she explored medical school, the more she liked the idea. This summer, Davis is joining Family Medicine Residency Program as a first-year resident.

It's a specialty that offers Davis the flexibility to do what she enjoys, taking care of people. One day she may be treating a child with a recurring cough. The next, she could be handling a minor surgical procedure, seeing an expectant mother, or taking care of an aging adult with pulmonary disease.

"I like seeing the same patient over and over, but I also like having some variety," Davis said.

A growing need

As a family medicine doctor, Davis is stepping into a field with a growing need as reports across the country are signaling a shortage of primary care physicians. Davis said the idea of helping fill an increasing void didn’t sway her decision to go into family medicine as much as the idea of being on the front line of patient care.

"I don’t think that influenced my decision at all, but it’s good to know there’s job security out there," she said.

More than 100 full-time family medicine and internal medicine physicians on faculty with the SOM see and treat patients at the school’s various teaching hospitals and clinics. Some maintain their own private practices while serving as teaching faculty. Steve Griffith, M.D., associate professor and chairman of community and family medicine, said the way those faculty split their time between seeing patients and teaching varies from person to person.

"Some say, 'I’d like to see more of my own patients.' Some say, 'I've seen enough patients, I’d like to spend more time teaching,'" Griffith said.

Fostering the doctor-patient relationship

George Harris, M.D., professor of medicine, is assistant dean for Years 1 and 2 medicine and serves as director of the family practice preceptorship, and instructs students in their family practice rotation at Truman Medical Center (TMC) Lakewood in Lee's Summit, Mo., where they experience the many different facets of primary care medicine.

Harris had his own private practice before joining the faculty at the SOM in 2003. Now, he spends a greater amount of his time teaching and no longer sees his own patients. But as the advisor for the School of Medicine's Family Medicine Student Interest Group, Harris is still firm in his belief that family medicine is the cornerstone of health care, calling it, "the specialty all physicians idealize but few pursue."

"Family medicine establishes the foundation for a solid patient-doctor relationship nurtured through years of medical care, compassion, and continuity," Harris said. Davis echoes those ideals and takes them a step further, saying the best medicine is preventative medicine. As a family practice physician, Davis will be in a position to work with patients to prevent the onset of a disease before it becomes a major issue.

"I think our role as family practitioners is at the forefront of medicine, and by doing a good job of what we do, we can prevent a lot of things before they get started," Davis said.

It is a common, collective goal that Davis said she has seen from primary care physicians at the UMKC SOM throughout her various rotations as a medical student.

"One thing I noticed about the family physicians I’ve worked with is that everyone focuses a lot on health maintenance," Davis said. "They emphasize good blood pressure control, cholesterol control, lifestyle changes and things that are important to prevent diseases."

Primary care physicians often come face to face with other hidden concerns beyond a patient’s physical symptoms that contribute to their health care needs as well.

UMKC-TMC partnership

Truman Medical Center is one of the primary teaching hospitals for the UMKC SOM’s docent units in which family medicine and internal medicine physicians lead their teams of students in out-patient continuity clinics — as well as through regular in-patient rotations — and provide direct care to patients or supervise residents and students who provide that care. At TMC Hospital Hill, those physicians and medical students typically treat the underserved population of Kansas City.

“Often they have less access to things that they need, and I like being able to help with that — things like transportation or money issues,” Davis said. “Some of the social issues that some of the patients I’ve worked with have faced have also been problematic to their health care and created extra problems for them to overcome.”

At the TMC Lakewood campus in Lee’s Summit, where the School of Medicine’s Community and Family Medicine program is based, family medicine physicians offer a vast array of services from obstetrics, to pediatrics, sports medicine, private out-patient clinics, to long-term geriatric care. That variety of patient care is largely what drew Davis to a career in family medicine.

“I chose family medicine because there are so many options,” Davis said. “I can practice obstetrics if I want. I could specialize in geriatrics if I want, or sports medicine.”

And with a husband and a 2-year-old baby boy at home, Davis said she figures family medicine will also allow her the time she desires to spend with her own family while working at a job she loves.

“Working in the outpatient clinics with patients that I have had for several years and getting to know them really well, that has been one of my favorite things about medicine,” Davis said. “And (obstetrics) was one of my favorite rotations, so I figured what better than to combine the two.”

Posted: September 14, 2009

Written by Kelly Edwards, UMKC School of Medicine

Photos by Robert Steckmest, UMKC School of Medicine

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"I think our role as family practitioners is at the forefront of medicine, and by doing a good job of what we do, we can prevent a lot of things before they get started."

Coleen Davis, M.D.
Family Medicine Resident, UMKC '09