Twenty-five years ago, the University of Washington School of Medicine formed its Department of Family Medicine with the founding chairman as its only UW-based faculty member. A cadre of town physicians, nearby and in the region, assisted in teaching and advising students. Today, the department remains strongly rooted in the outside community, with nearly 600 volunteer clinical faculty in towns throughout Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho; and 31 faculty members at the UW.
Largely because of its grounding in real-world practice, the department has become a respected national leader in teaching medical students about family medicine, training family practice residents, and studying health services issues, particularly in rural and medically underserved places. For the past three years, an annual U.S. News & World Report survey of graduate and professional schools has ranked the department first nationally in medical student education. Another study, conducted by the Medical College of Georgia, found it to be the most prolific in faculty research productivity.
Family physicians make up the single largest group among UW School of Medicine alumni. According to the 1995 Physician Masterfile of the American Medical Association, of the 4,524 UW medical school graduates in practice, 982, or 21.7 percent, are practicing family medicine. This summer a record 36 percent of the UW medical school’s graduating class entered residency training in family medicine.
When asked how family medicine has changed medical care in its slightly more than 25 years as a specialty, the founding chair of the UW Department of Family Medicine, Dr. Theodore J. Phillips, replied that generalism is the oldest form of medicine, not something new. Family medicine emerged when general practice was in decline, and specialization was in ascendancy.
“The renaissance in generalism, labeled family medicine,” Phillips said, “has contributed toward an overall move among physicians to apply a wider variety of disciplines in their practice of medicine. While recognizing the vital importance of the specialized advances in medicine that come from knowledge in the biological sciences, physicians are realizing that, in addition, there are other ways of knowing, and that an understanding of the social and psychological aspects of health and disease are also essential in caring for patients.”
To train new family physicians capable of meeting the anticipated health-care needs of the region, the department is developing additional residency and medical student teaching sites in rural towns, inner cities, managed-care settings, and in clinics and hospitals that serve minority or culturally diverse populations. It has a center, jointly run with the American Academy of Family Physicians, to construct clinical guidelines for the screening or treatment of common disorders. The department also has initiatives in the use of telecommunications technology to link its teaching sites in remote areas with each other and with the UW School of Medicine.
The Department of Family Medicine celebrated its 25th anniversary Thursday, Sept. 12, as part of its annual continuing medical education course on advances in family practice.