Zac Nicholas currently is a third-year medical student at the California Northstate University College of Medicine. Mr. Nicholas is an active member of his local Sacramento-El Dorado Chapter, a Legislative Key Contact, and FP-PAC donor, and also serves as Student Co-Director on the CAFP Board of Directors. When asked about good qualities a family physician should have, Zac said, “family physicians require a unique skill and mindset to effectively serve patients and the community. To effectively empathize with patients, we must remain compassionate and vulnerable. To handle the complexities of modern primary care, we must become creative, patient and persevere for our patients’ well-being. And to understand our limitations, we must be humble and relentlessly curious.”
Why did you choose family medicine and what’s your favorite aspect of it?
As a medical student, we are inundated with potential careers in medicine. The allure of family medicine (FM) lies in the intrinsic value of primary care, broad-scope training, community-based practice, and collective advocacy. The FM community is uniquely embracing of students and student concerns, encouraging early involvement and subsequent prominence in the greater medical community.
Were you inspired by anyone to pursue family medicine?
As a non-traditional medical school applicant, I had little exposure to the world of medicine and few mentors in the medical field. I knew I had an interest in broad scope practice and primary care but was unable to connect my desires to individuals I knew. Since entering medical school, I have interacted with innumerable insightful, pioneering, and caring physicians, residents, and fellow students that have constantly reignited my desire to enter FM.
What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
Patient interactions leave a lasting impression on developing students. As a classic example, I distinctly remember a patient on my first clerkship rotation that had delayed seeking care until she had lost significant weight and become so ill, she was hardly able to move or speak. She had developed multiple liver abscesses and a severe infection, which we were able to drain and treat. Unfortunately, problems continued in managing her discharge when she was unable to secure regular follow-up care; I personally sought out resources for her, never knowing for certain if she would be able to get the care she needed. Family medicine treats and advocates on behalf of patients just like her.
What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?
It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:
They are a vital resource of information, mentorship, and guidance as a medical student interested in FM. With their support, I am able to effectively encourage other students to consider a career in primary care and discuss the width and breadth of FM practice. Every physician and staff member in CAFP and the AAFP have been absolutely critical to my success as a student and will remain invaluable in my transition to residency and eventual practice.
What has been your best experience as a CAFP member? Why?
My favorite experience with CAFP has to be the first All Member Advocacy Meeting I attended as a first-year medical student. This was my first encounter with CAFP and, not knowing anyone, I was understandably nervous and intimidated. However, I quickly realized that CAFP is a unique organization with compassionate and welcoming members that wholeheartedly accepted me and provided me the support to advocate effectively on behalf of patients and communities. This event was the catalyst that empowered me to continue my advocacy efforts and become more involved in CAFP.
The most important resource I find CAFP offers me is:
Mentorship and networking with fellow FM students, residents, and physicians. The relationships I’ve forged within the CAFP will undoubtedly last a lifetime and remain invaluable in my career as a future FM physician.
How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?
Considering I am still early in my training as a future FM physician, I am dedicated to utilizing my training, knowledge, and experience to effect change in my community through advocacy and philanthropic involvement. I work to support my fellow students and residents in utilizing our unique perspective on medicine to critically analyze and address persistent problems in the medical community. Housing and food insecurity, healthcare and medication access, and many other systemic issues are forefront in students’ minds and collectively we can work to improve the lives of our communities.
Tell us about a project you are involved in and why it is important to you:
I am currently involved with research in the Sacramento area to better understand naloxone availability. We are working with multiple organizations to better equip pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with information about naloxone to improve communication with patients and communities that would benefit from naloxone. This issue lies at the intersection of multiple issues related to stigmas associated with substance abuse, regulatory burden, and public health communication. It will remain important as the medical community continues to grapple with the opioid crisis, downstream effects of economic instability, and a reckoning for medical practice steeped in historical prejudice.
Do you remember your personal statement for medical school? If so, would you like to share an excerpt?
“Now as a future physician, my passion drives me to learn and apply my collective experience and knowledge toward improving the lives of individuals in medically underserved populations. I am determined to embrace the depth and breadth of primary care skills needed to effectively treat patients, regardless of means or location.”
What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?
Don’t listen to physicians in other specialties that may denigrate a career in primary care; utilize CAFP and other organizations to meet FM physicians and come to your own conclusions regarding your path in medicine.
How do you spend your free time?
When not exhausted from medical school, I enjoy reading non-medical books and literature, staying active, and recuperating at home with my partner and our rescue pets.
If you weren’t a doctor what would you be doing with your career?
My mother and high school teachers always said I loved arguing and being a smart aleck. If medicine doesn’t work, I could envision myself as a lawyer continuing my advocacy for patients and vulnerable communities.
Tell us briefly about your family:
I have a sister who works as a graphic designer in New York City and my loving parents recently retired to the hills of north Georgia after 35 years in south Florida to enjoy true seasons again.