American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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National Primary Care Day events educate students

Schools pull out the stops—even Oprah-style talk shows—to celebrate primary care

From the November 1996 ACP Observer, copyright 1996 by the American College of Physicians.

By Holly Epstein Ojalvo

NEW YORK—Approximately 140 U.S. medical schools recently celebrated National Primary Care Day with activities that included speeches from leaders in medicine and a mock television talk show interviewing generalist physicians.

ACP President Christine K. Cassel, FACP, spoke to more than 100 students, residents and staff at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan to educate students about the challenges and rewards of primary care.

Dr. Cassel, chair of Mt. Sinai's Henry L. Schwartz Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development, told the group that primary care must be at the heart of any health care system, with a strong focus on care for the elderly. She noted that while there were just 3 million Americans 85 or older in 1990, that number will rise to between 14 million and 43 million by the year 2040. As a result, she said, the U.S. medical system will need 40,000 teachers, researchers and practitioners specializing in geriatrics by 2030, double the number needed in 1990.

Dr. Cassel called on physicians and medical students alike to help erase the stereotype of the elderly as senile and demented. "We have to change society so that people who want to keep working and stay active can find a friendly place to do so," she said. And while many medical students may envision geriatrics as "depressing ... [with] a lack of opportunities for heroism," Dr. Cassel noted that physicians can make a big difference in improving seniors' quality of life.

At a luncheon after the presentation, second-year medical student Nihan Simsek agreed with Dr. Cassel that "regardless of your specialty, you will see older patients." Second-year medical student Jodi Bassin noted that ageism was a problem and praised Mt. Sinai for its geriatrics department, noting that many other medical schools do not have one. Mt. Sinai had canceled afternoon classes to encourage students to attend the day's events.

Throughout the country, other medical schools held similar events to celebrate primary care. Here is a sampling:

  • The Kirksville Osteopathic School of Medicine in Kirksville, Mo., held a charity dinner featuring keynote speaker David Hilsiker, MD, a practitioner of "poverty medicine" in Washington, D.C. Proceeds from the dinner went to a Washington residence for homeless AIDS patients.
  • At the University of Rochester, students hosted a mock talk show called "The Real World: Primary Care—The Naked Truth Uncovered." A panel of generalists answered questions about primary care in an Oprah-style setting.
  • In its headquarters city of Philadelphia, ACP sponsored activities at local medical schools. For example, at Temple University Medical School, the College organized a procedures workshop where students practiced needle injections on hot dogs and oranges.

Herbert Waxman, FACP, the College's Senior Vice President for Education, said that ACP fosters the primary care spirit year-round through its community-based teaching programs. While ACP's educational products are currently aimed at residents and practicing physicians, Dr. Waxman noted that the College may introduce a program for medical students as early as next year.

The fourth annual National Primary Care Day is scheduled for Oct. 2, 1997.

Holly Epstein Ojalvo is a New York City-based freelance writer specializing in health care.

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