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Physician Spotlight

Meet Felipe R. Perez, MD, FAAFP, Director of Family Medicine Residency Program at El Rio Health. He shares his experiences teaching residents at El Rio Health. 
From Print Issue - Spring 2023
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Q: What motivates you to train residents in family medicine?

When I completed my family medicine resi­dency training, I never envisioned myself teaching residents. My goal was to serve the community by providing care at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), but teaching was not part of my career plans. About three years into my career as a family medicine physician, I was asked if I would mentor a medical student during their pre-clinical years. I hesitated at first because I didn’t feel quali­fied to teach medical students, let alone residents! But I finally agreed. I remember my first mentee. His name was Mohammad.

For the first few weeks I felt nervous because I was not sure if I was doing a good job as an attending physician. Over time, however, I learned my insecurities about teaching were completely unfounded. I was surprised to discover how easy and enjoyable it was to share my passion about caring for patients and the community. This newfound passion motivated me to increase my teaching commitment. I learned how teaching can enhance job satisfaction by providing me with a sense of added purpose, which in turn improved my overall sense of well-being. Combining my passion for medicine and teaching took my career in a new direction and led me to eventually start Arizona’s first teaching health center to train fam­ily medicine residents in an FQHC.

Q: What does it take to become an attending physician?

Any physician passionate about patient care and interested in sharing their passion can become an attending physician. People often think attend­ing physicians need special training or teaching experience to become an educator, but that’s not necessarily true. In many cases, attendings physicians begin their teaching career by mentor­ing a student for a few hours per week. As they gain more experience, they might increase their teaching commitment and even seek out faculty development opportunities.

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"We currently have a large disparity in access to care in rural and underserved communities."

Q: Is it what you expected?

No. It was much better than I expected. In fact, it changed the direction of my career. I am grateful to have discovered the synergy of both teaching and taking care of patients.

Q: Which improvements are needed in GME? Maybe they’re structural, funding, policy, etc.

We need to address the primary care physician shortage in Arizona. We currently have a large disparity in access to care in rural and underserved communities. Although there have been recent improvements to address the shortage, we still have a significant challenge ahead of us. One possible solution is to focus more state initiatives on training and incentivizing FQHCs and rural health centers that provide recognition and support to attending physicians who teach. This is important because there is strong evidence that physicians often stay to practice medicine where they were trained.

Q: Please share a funny moment as an attending.

One time I helped a resident physician replace his car’s radiator in the clinic parking lot. It got a lot of laughs from the staff.

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