The last year and a half has no doubt been busy for Irene and me, as we do our best to balance running a medical practice and raise a family. When we first took over the clinic that my pediatrician father had founded nearly 20 years, there were lots of things that needed to be changed to suit our practice:
- We did away with the old paper charts and completely switched to electronic medical records.
- We explored several options for billing and found one that works for us.
- We added many new services to the clinic such as venipuncture, EKG, and pap smears.
- We offered more types of vaccines for more patients.
- We joined physician groups and accepted a lot more insurances than before.
- We started accepting adult patients in addition to children, now that we converted the practice from pediatrics to family medicine
- We changed the work hours a few times until we settle with one that allows us to get home at a reasonable time to cook dinner for the family, take care of the kids, and spend some quality time together.
- We extended our services to the cadets at the National Guard’s Youth Challenge Academy.
- We hired and trained new staff, and created a new employee manual.
- We created new forms for patients.
- We re-branded the practice with a new name, new log, new sign, and new merchandise.
- We bought new medical equipment, new examination tables, and new furniture.
- And thanks to the help of our landlord (my father), we were able to get a new roof, new floor, new sidings, new paving, and a much-needed remodeling of the building, which probably had not been updated for 20-30 years.
Irene and I knew the first year was going to be hard, but we had faith that with patience and perseverance, we can pull this off. The past year and a half has been a test of our strength as a family and as business partners. During residency, we didn’t get much experience in practice management and so to come fresh out of residency into a world where we have to deal with CMOs, ever-increasing bureaucratic regulations, credentialing, prior authorizations that delay medical care, rising drug costs, and different insurance company’s different interpretations of the CMS billing/coding requirements, was a little daunting. Practicing medicine is one thing, but to make bread from it is a completely different skillset altogether, as you can see. When you’re busy trying to figure out how to navigate the complex world of healthcare business today, it’s easy to become disconnected from the actual practice of medicine – of being a life-long academic who is constantly acquiring knowledge and honing the skills needed to help those who call us their physicians.
I’m way overdue for this “honing,” and the number of CME credits I have earned thus far since graduation reflects it. Now that we are much more stable in our business, it was time for me to catch up on some live CME credits needed to maintain my license and certification. That’s when I signed up for AAFP’s Family Medicine Experience 2018 in New Orleans.
It was my first conference so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I had anticipated it would be back-to-back 1 hour lectures on various medical topics, then maybe a break for lunch, then maybe some more back-to-back 1 hour lectures. I thought, it would be a nice break, just sitting and listening and being a student again. I would get 28 credits, meaning 28 hours of lecture during the conference, working my way up to the 50 I would need for the year.
The drive from our home in Georgia to New Orleans would take about 8 hours and the conference was 5 days, so we took a week off from work and made it into a family trip. As any parent can attest, an 8 hour straight car ride is never a good idea when you have two younglings with you. So to prevent any meltdowns, we planned for several stops along the way.
After spending the night with Irene’s parents in Valdosta, we stopped in Tallahassee to visit Irene’s sister, Emily, who we had not seen in more than a year. Aria and Lyra reconnected with their cousin Sylvia who is about their same age and together we checked out a festival in a beautiful downtown park covered by a canopy of live oak. The cousins were inseparable and it is never enough time to catch up with family so the next day, we decided to continue our conversations in the beach town of Gulf Shores, Alabama, where the cousins were able to build some sand castles and collect sea shells before the heavy clouds of Hurricane Michael hit shore.
We didn’t know it when we planned it, but Irene and I had escaped Hurricane Michael during our trip, which had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it reached our home. After the news confirmed that Hurricane Michael was heading straight to Tallahassee, it seemed to be a safe and logical choice for Emily and Sylvia to also join us in New Orleans, and a great excuse for a long overdue chance to reconnect.
Despite the image of people flashing for beads on Bourbon Street, New Orleans to our surprise, is actually a very kid-friendly city. Our girls and their cousin had a blast! The kids got to learn about, play with, and even eat bugs at the insectarium – they’ll eat anything if it’s in a cookie. They got to feed parakeets and touch stingrays at the Audubon aquarium. They got to role-play running a restaurant and serving Emily, Irene, and me at the Children’s museum. And when I asked them about their day at the zoo, the kids kept talking about “Roman Candy” more than they talked about the animals there – apparently it’s a very local thing here and featured on Travel Channel. Then, of course, there are the beignets.
During our trip, we also had the chance to meet up with Irene’s long-time family friends in Diamondhead, Mississippi, the Howells, who used to live in Valdosta but retired to the Magnolia State. We also reconnected with my childhood friend Tess and her mother, who moved to the Crescent City a few years ago. Tess has always been very accomplished and passionate with anything that she do, ever since I remembered her in middle school and she continues to do good work in her field of antiquities law. I looked up to her mother growing up and I still do today. Irene, the girls, and I felt very welcomed by them and were glad to be able to meet up with them after so many years.
The FMX conference turned out to be much more than just a bunch of classes and workshops for the 4000 or so family doctors who attended. There were interest groups, happy hour meet-and-greets, community service volunteer activities, energizing talks from special guest speakers (ZDoggMD was one of the guest speakers this year), poster competition, yoga sessions, a huge expo, live music, a big party near the end of the conference, and even a 5k specifically for the conference. Family docs sure do know how to make a potentially bland conference into actually a lot of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Back at home, sometimes I feel lonely being the only family doc around my work and community environment, but coming here and being surrounded by 4000 others like me (many who also experience the same headaches as I do in their practices, and who have the same ideals and goals as I do) reassured me that not only was I not alone, I was part of this awesome greater professional community, and it makes me feel proud to be a family physician.
During the week of the FMX conference, my medical school alma mater, American University of the Caribbean (AUC), also organized an alumni reunion at a posh social house in downtown New Orleans for all the alumni in the area who may or may not have come for the conference. I reconnected with some old classmates and talked about where life has taken us now post-AUC, as well as met new colleagues from graduating classes before and after my own. I also got to reconnect with staff and admin at the reunion, like Dave Jones who helped us with our MSPE letter sent to the residency programs, or Sekou Smith and Gus Galue who worked in admissions (and now in alumni relations). I was also pleasantly surprised to see some of my old professors as well, like Dr. McIntosh who taught me molecular cell bio in my first and second semester on the island, as well as Dr. Gagne, who was one of the instructors who taught us clinical exam skills during our ICM courses from second through fifth semester. These individuals from AUC were the ones that helped get us to where we are today, and I am grateful for their guidance in my journey. I think AUC is doing an awesome job staying well-connected with their alumni. I don’t know of any other medical school that would follow national professional conventions like FMX and host a special VIP reception for its alumni. I think reunions like these make us feel proud to be a part of a larger AUC family.
I am so thankful for this trip, which turned out to be a lot more than just a way for me to catch-up on my CME credit. This was a trip for reconnection – a reconnection with family and friends, with colleagues, and with my community of family docs and of AUC alums. And during a time when practicing medicine seems harder than ever before – with rising medical costs, increased bureaucratic requirements, decreased reimbursements – this trip was a reconnection with my roots of why I became a family physician.