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June 2016 Member of the Month

Thomas Balsbaugh, MD

Dr. Balsbaugh is Medical Director for the Patient-Centered Medical Home and care coordination at UC Davis, as well as a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. He also served as Director of the Family Medicine Residency Program from 2000 to 2014. He has a particular interest in caring for patients with chronic illnesses and motivational interviewing.

Dr. Balsbaugh graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, then completed his Family Medicine Residency and a fellowship in Family Practice Faculty Development at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.


Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it?

I had a great group of mentors at medical school. They had wonderful long-term relationships with their patients and they were engaged in the community. I also thought they were brilliant—They knew so much and were able to take care of most of their patients’ health needs. My favorite part of family medicine is the trust and respect we share with our patients.


Were you inspired by anyone to pursue family medicine?

One of my teachers from medical school, Ed McGeehee. He started the family medicine program at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. I met him after he had been in practice for nearly 40 years, and he still enjoyed learning new things, taking care of patients cradle to grave, and sharing his knowledge with others.  He took me on a home visit as a third year medical student, and I had my first opportunity to see how well family physicians connect with their patients. His humor and humility made him my role model.


What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?

Maybe this is a carry-over to my home visit experience with my mentor:  As an attending physician, I had a patient who had become progressively homebound, so I began to follow her with home visits.  Her tiny three-room home was in terrible shape with a leaky roof, barely functioning appliances, and lots of clutter. Every cabinet, table and shelf was crammed with pictures, figurines, collectibles and crafts.  She was barely able to leave the reclining chair in which she spent her day, ate her meals and slept. I encouraged her to consider a move, but she valued her independence and continued to insist that she would be okay with a caregiver who visited a few times each week. During my visits, she would show me some memento from an earlier time in her life. One day she called the office and asked me to make one last stop because she had received a call that the county sheriff was coming the following day with a court order to demolish her home, and that she was ready to consider going to a skilled nursing facility.  I continue to think about this time in my patients’ life.  Reflecting back, I try never to forget that our patients need us most when they are vulnerable and afraid.


What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?

“Meet the patients where they are.” 


What is the best experience you have had during your career as a family physician so far?

Being residency director at UC Davis.  I enjoyed watching many new physicians grow and pursue their passions. Keeping in touch and seeing the impact they each have made has been great.


It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:

Family physicians share many of the same values.  We are patient advocates.  We enjoy the diversity of practice.  We work well with others.  CAFP and AAFP help us achieve these goals in our community and nationally through their advocacy.


What has been your best experience as a CAFP member? Why?

I really enjoy our chapter meetings.  Sacramento is a great place to practice family medicine.  We have outstanding educational programs.  We have a diverse practice environment and great clinicians.  Our chapter meetings give me the chance to hear about what is happening in the state and our community and meet other inspiring family physicians.


The most important resource I find CAFP offers me is:

Legislative advocacy.  Health care has become a political focus.  CAFP has advocated for access to care, workforce development, public health interventions such as improved immunization rates, and other important issues. I really enjoy hearing from CAFP’s legislative staff at meetings and reading the updates in California Family Physician


How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?

By helping to build a diverse workforce with outstanding clinical skills and a commitment to better community health.  I have helped train nearly 50 physicians in our local community and more than 100 in our state.


Tell us about a project in which you are involved and why it is important to you:

I am the medical director for Patient Centered Medical Home Transformation at UC Davis.  I helped UC Davis achieve Level 3 NCQA recognition for all of our primary care offices.  We have built quality dashboards to engage each practice in improvement efforts and redesigned workflows to share responsibilities with the care team.  I also helped to build our care coordination program.  The program utilizes nurse care managers and social workers to assist patients with their care plan between office visits or after a hospital visit.  We also are introducing the role of a health coach to help patients develop better self-management skills.

I really enjoy this work, and find it important because family physicians need more support as they pursue excellence in care.  We all are faced with high patient expectations, vast amounts of information, and increasing emphasis on the value we bring to care.  Physicians need to maintain our tradition of one-on-one relationships with patients, but we also need to integrate interprofessional teamwork into our systems.  I like the opportunity to provide leadership as we explore this paradigm.  As a family doctor, I bring a broad knowledge base, collaborative experience, and interest in patient-centered care.  Practice transformation is my chance to be creative and think “blue sky.” What would our ideal practice look like?


What are good qualities a family physician should have?

Resilience, patience, confidence, and humility.


Do you remember your personal statement for medical school? If so, would you like to share an excerpt?

I said, “Every doctor needs to be a good teacher.” At the time, I was referring to teaching our patients. It just so happens that I also pursued a career in teaching.


What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?

Try and see a variety of family medicine practices; it will open your eyes to all the possibilities of our specialty.


How do you spend your free time?

I enjoy lots of family time.  I like to cook on Sunday afternoon and prepare a few meals for the rest of the week. I am a big college basketball fan.  I love the variety of activities that are available in Northern California: skiing, the beach, camping and weekends around the pool. We also like to travel to Nevada or San Francisco to visit family.


If you weren’t a doctor what would you be doing with your career?

I would love to be a chef. 


What would your best friend say about you?

“Why are you such a Facebook lurker?  POST something!”


Tell us something fun/unusual about yourself:

I like singing Karaoke.  I was the president of my high school chorus.


Tell us briefly about your family:

I have 11-year-old twin girls and a 13-year old boy. My wife is also a physician, and we really are able to have a balanced life. We use lots of carpools! We prioritize our time together, especially mealtime. Our kids are very caring, sensitive people.  They all have a great sense of humor.


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. 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