October Member of the Month
Chris Flores, MD
Dr. Chris Flores first found his inspiration to study family medicine from an unusual place – television shows from his childhood. “I grew up watching Marcus Welby, MD and Star Trek as a kid,” he says. “Both of these fictional doctors were generalists – basically representing family doctors on their respective TV shows – and they were an early inspiration for me to pursue a career in medicine.”
Dr. Flores attended medical school at the University of California Irvine before completing his three-year residency at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. He now runs his own medical practice, and is the Vice Chair of CAFP’s Committee on Continuing Professional Development.
Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it?
I went into family medicine because I wanted to handle the whole diversity of medical conditions that can affect people over the course of their lifetimes. No other specialty provides training on such varied areas as emergency medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics, women’s health, geriatrics, hospital and outpatient medicine, etc. Specialist physicians and even other primary care doctors such as pediatricians and general internists are narrow in their scope of practice and they do not feel comfortable managing conditions outside their field of expertise. In family medicine, we are familiar with an amazing body of knowledge and tend to be more accessible and involved in our neighborhoods and communities than most specialist physicians.
My favorite aspect of family medicine is the flexibility it offers me to provide my patients with creative, holistic, compassionate and technologically-advanced solutions to help them live the healthiest and happiest lives they can.
Were you inspired by an individual to pursue family medicine?
As a child, my parents would take me to see a solo generalist named Dr. Green – he always took a lot of time with us and he had a wonderful bedside manner. When my older brother, Hector, became a family physician, he also served as inspiration for me to pursue medicine as a career. He has provided invaluable advice and mentorship to me over the years, and he is a leader in medicine and health policy endeavors.
What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
There are so many, but I really enjoy watching kids that I took care of as infants or school kids grow up into responsible and successful adults, and feel humbled by the fact that I provided reassurance and assistance in their lives during times of extreme illness, pain or fear. I also treasure getting to know my elderly patients, and hearing about their adventures in youth – their education, military service, their business successes (and failures), their struggles and challenges with marriages or social relationships and the pride they often feel in their children and extended families. Many people in health care only see the frail, ill, disabled geriatric patients who require a lot of care, and they miss the opportunity to hear their stories and life experiences.
What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?
On my Twitter profile, I call myself a “healthcare funambulist” because as family physicians we often perform daring feats, figuratively “walking a tightrope” to help our patients navigate and receive adequate care from our fragmented, disorganized, dysfunctional, and sometimes less-than-sympathetic health care system. Every day it seems family doctors face more challenges in terms of practice management, medico-legal obstacles, exhausting prior authorization processes to get the right care or treatments for our patients and stifling bureaucracy and red-tape simply to get paid for what we do.
What is the best experience you have had during your career as a family physician so far?
Setting up a successful “dream practice” based on the low-overhead, low-volume model. Ten years ago, many colleagues and advisers said it couldn’t be done, but with a lot of hard work and creativity, my wife and I have established a respected, old-fashioned, full-spectrum (except no OB deliveries) medical home with passionately loyal patients and manageable work-life balance. Since 2005, I have done house calls, hospital inpatient work, skilled nursing home rounds, virtual office visits and state-of-the-art diagnosis and management from a small office in the Coachella Valley. It has given me the opportunity to work side-by-side with my wife, Maricela, who is my boss (she is a brilliant attorney) and the brains of the operation.
It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:
I want to support my specialty organization and I am continually impressed with the leadership and staff of CAFP. I have been very involved for many years with professional education at the Academy and I love working with the bright and talented people at CAFP. There is a famous quote – “if you want to go fast, go alone – if you want to go far, go together” – we can go very, very far as family physicians if we go together with CAFP!
What has been your best experience as a CAFP member? Why?
Getting to know the hardworking, dedicated, and brilliantly creative leadership staff at the CAFP office. I have especially gotten to know and interfaced with Shelly Rodrigues, Cynthia Kear and Jerri Davis. They are each uniquely talented in their own right, and the wonderful collaborative educational projects they have pulled off over the years have made CAFP a nationally-recognized leader in physician professional development.
The most important resource I find CAFP offers me is:
Administrative support and advice for my practice and my patients. We often send emails or place phone calls to get questions answered regarding Medicare, Medi-Cal, insurance authorization/denial issues and other administrative and medico-legal questions.
How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?
My wife and I try to be very visible and helpful in the community. We mentor students, give presentations at public schools, donate and help with fundraising for non-profit organizations such as the YMCA and we try to model healthy living – good nutrition with a physically active lifestyle.
Tell us about a project you are involved in and why it is important to you:
Maricela and I started the Coachella Valley chapter of Walk with a Doc, a national non-profit that helps doctors and other health care providers engage the community in exercise. It is important to us because as clinicians we can only touch a limited number of lives, and organizations like Walk with a Doc allow us to “scale up” our reach and influence in a manageable way, without stretching ourselves too thin. We want to do our part to build a culture of health in our community and helping people be more physically active is a wonderful way to accomplish this.
What are good qualities a family physician should have?
Obviously clinical competence and a commitment to lifelong learning – aside from that: Good listening skills, empathy, clear communication skills and ability to mindfully focus attention on the patient being evaluated.
Do you remember your personal statement for medical school? If so, would you like to share an excerpt?
My opening line was “Medicine is an art and a science”. This is somewhat self-evident, but I think a lot of practicing physicians lose touch with the art side of practice, and focus solely on the lab tests, imaging studies/other diagnostic findings, treatment protocols and disease management algorithms, etc. They forget about the human touch and how every encounter has endless possibilities in terms of creative (even artistic) solutions to improve a patient’s quality of life and health outcomes. A good balance between the art and science of medicine prevents burnout and maintains the fun and joy of practice. I also believe that patients and payers fully expect the cost of the science to go down as time goes on (just like any other technology or commodity), but consumers are willing to pay for the art of medicine – they see the value of it and tolerate out-of-pocket expense.
What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?
I read a work-life balance blog online that talked about the danger of striving for perfection or being a perfectionist – I tell students they should not try to be perfect – rather they should strive for excellence, the best performance that is humanly possible, keeping in mind that humans are not perfect and we can’t hold ourselves up to an impossible standard.
How do you spend your free time?
Hiking, exercising whenever possible and playing guitar.
If you weren’t a physician, what would you be doing with your career?
What would your best friend say about you?
“Marches to the beat of his own drum.”
Tell us something fun/unusual about yourself:
I have a simian crease (single line on palm which can be associated with congenital developmental disorders) on my left hand, which stymies would-be palm readers and explains my behavior to neuropsychologists.
Tell us briefly about your family:
Mexican immigrant family – my parents and four older siblings were born in Mexico – I was the first born in the United States (Los Angeles) and I have one younger sister who also was born here. Like most immigrants, my parents came here to provide more educational opportunities and chances of success for us children. We have been very lucky in this regard – all of us acquired some level of higher education and all of us are well-compensated professionals. My oldest brother is a dentist and another older brother is a family physician. Had we stayed in Mexico we would likely have blue-collar or service jobs and be struggling just to get by.
Each month, CAFP highlights one outstanding California family physician member who lends their voice, time, talent and resources to strengthen the specialty of family medicine and his or her community. The Member of the Month interviews are conducted by CAFP staffer, Maria Jennings If you choose to share this article, feel free, but give appropriate source and author information. If you would like to share your story or know a family physician colleague who deserves to be recognized for his or her impact or leadership, contact CAFP at 415-345-8667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.