I have been practicing full scope, rural family medicine for 18 years now and I still don’t know everything I need to know. When I come upon a puzzle I don’t know how to solve, I joke with patients that I need to “phone a friend” to get help with the answer.
In the beginning, I reached back to my residency mentors - those people who were always available when I had a question during my training, shared their cell numbers, and never made me feel dumb for asking something I maybe should have known. I would call my family medicine faculty and my community based preceptors for advice. “What would you do in this instance? Do you see the same thing I do on this x-ray?”
After a while, I felt comfortable asking my new family medicine colleagues the questions I couldn’t sort out myself and felt flattered when every once in a while they would ask ME something. “Have you ever seen a rash like this before? Who do you refer to in this situation?” And the questions branched outside of clinical medicine. “How many patients do I need to see to break even? What tools do you use to track your financial performance?”
Along the way, I collected the names and numbers of colleagues who were always helpful and gracious; the ones who didn’t require a referral or patient visit to help solve a problem. In rural Kansas, this seemed to be easier than my urban residency setting - those folks’ schedules were just as jam-packed as mine and if we could take care of a patient with a phone call between friends, so much the better for all of us!
I also found this network of friends helpful as I learned to lead. I sought advice from mentors as I went from the new physician who got bitten by the NCCL (then NCSC) bug and ran for delegate, through the KAFP leadership track, to running for the AAFP board. Wise people ahead of me on this journey taught me, among many things, to hear the voices of pessimistic friends, explore personal motivation behind conversations that left me feeling defensive, and let those doing the work shape improvements in workflow.
Some days, I am privileged to be the friend someone else is phoning for a tough problem; those opportunities allow me to give back just a little bit of the support I have received over the course of my career. If your number is in my contacts app, it’s time to say thanks. You know I’ll be calling you for more great advice real soon.