December 2016 Member of the Month
Jerry Abraham, MD, MPH, CMQ
Jerry P Abraham, MD MPH CMQ is a Family & Community Medicine Resident Physician at the University of Southern California (USC) Family Medicine Residency Program at California Hospital in downtown Los Angeles. Dr. Abraham's interest include Health Policy, Patient-Centered Healthcare Delivery and Physician-led Advocacy, Medical Quality, Integrative Medicine, Global Health & Epidemiology, among other topics. He currently serves on the California Academy of Family Physicians (CAFP) All-Member Advocacy Meeting and Resident Council, theCalifornia Medical Association (CMA) Board of Trustees, the Los Angeles County Medical Association (LACMA) Board of Directors, Committee of Interns & Residents (CIR) Regional Vice President for Southern California, American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Delegation to the American Medical Association (AMA), American College of Medical Quality Board of Trustees, among other roles.
Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it?
My choice of family medicine was actually a bit circuitous. My initial degree was a Masters in Public Health. I care deeply about advancing public health, and when I noticed all of the high-level decision makers in that field had medical credentials, I decided to go to medical school. When it came time to think about where I fit in to medicine, family medicine was the obvious choice. I am hard-wired to engage with my community. I take walks in my neighborhood, consider serving on the school board, feel concern about public safety … I care about all of the diverse issues that affect the lives of our/my patients. Family medicine allows me to grapple holistically with the challenges of individual patients and to prioritize public health. I also believe as a family physician my potential is endless. I might someday work in public health, global health, or in advocacy and the legislature. My work as a family doctor is directly translatable to all of these.
Were you inspired by anyone to pursue family medicine?
I have been inspired by many people. During my first year of medical school, Dr. Ashok Kumar of the AAFP encouraged me to attend the national conference and become engaged. I am thankful for the privilege of being a part of that. (PS: Dr. Kumar was just named FP of the Year by the Texas AFP) Dr. Kelly Jones has been tremendous in allowing me to continue to make time in my schedule for policy work while a resident. I am also grateful to Susan, Shelly and many others in CAFP for welcoming me and creating a forum for students and residents to have a voice and impact. We need to be engaged in the wider policy questions facing the system we are inheriting. It is imperative to be at the table, and vocal about the medicine we will practice for the next four-five decades.
What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
For me what is most meaningful about practicing family medicine is getting to experience the dawn and dusk of life, and all that is in between. I love that on the same day I can spend a morning with a mama delivering her baby, and I can help a patient who is dying to find the most dignified and compassionate way to leave the planet.
What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?
Family medicine doctors are “comprehensivists.” We have the opportunity to be there from pregnancy through a funeral. We also have experience in the full the breadth of medicine, and can bring tremendous value to patients who get lost and overwhelmed by advice from many corners. We help them put it all back together.
It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:
The people I serve are from a downtown urban area – LA’s “Skid Row.” Many of them are homeless or undocumented. It is critical that we have doctors who are paid to care for this population! Being a part of CAFP and AAFP allows me to be an advocate for my patients. When I went to the lobby day after the 2016 All Member Advocacy Meeting, I thought it was just going to be a “practice run” to help us develop our skills. I never imagined that one year later $100 million dollars would have been approved for the state budget. When we unite and collaborate with other organizations at the city, state and national level, we can affect powerful changes! CAFP also keeps me informed and up-to-date in my medical knowledge, and it ensures that issues which matter to my colleagues are addressed. I care about the specific concerns which affect students and residents, such as how to access school loans, advance and protect trainees, and diversify the workforce. Participating in these membership organizations helps assure these concerns are heard and addressed.
How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?
I make a difference by taking time to participate in CAFP and AAFP. I recently joined CAFP staff to testify at the hearings for Song Brown. I believe there is an important role for me as an advocate and evangelist, promoting the value of high quality primary care amongst those who are not FM doctors. In part this can be amongst those in other fields, but I am also a cheerleader for family medicine amongst our ultra-specialty colleagues and at organizations such as the California and American Medical Associations.
What are good qualities a family physician should have?
A family physician should embody the qualities of patient-centeredness. This begins from the moment we walk in to an exam room, in our body language and mannerisms, and includes our interactions with assistants and colleagues. It is important that we honor and cherish the sacredness of the physician – patient relationship. We need to have a bedside manner which allows us to connect with the particular type of patient we care for. We should be noble, professional, and uphold the trust of the public and the privilege of what we are able to do.
What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?
I would advise everyone entering medical school who is not yet certain of their focus, to assume they are going to be a family doctor. FM is the foundation of all specialties. If things change later, that’s ok. In this way we’d also gain a lot more FM doctors.
How do you spend your free time?
Believe it or not, I like to attend board meetings in my free time. I find it rejuvenates me to be with my brothers and sisters, before I re-enter the trenches. I also enjoy group fitness, beach volleyball, travel, and spending time at the ocean and the mountains.
If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be doing with your career?
Possibly a lawyer, policy maker or politician. But in my fantasy, I sometimes imagine being a flight attendant with a cabin of 100 passengers. I’d be great at making sure everyone felt safe, comfortable and cared for.
What would your best friend say about you?
That I take on too much, am overextended and need balance. That I have incredible energy and passion. They are amazed that I can accomplish so much, and at how little sleep I need.
Tell us something fun/unusual about yourself:
I love music festivals and to dance. I like to dress up outrageously. I am a raver, but without the drugs.
Tell us briefly about your family:
My father passed in 2014, in what could have been a preventable hospital death. I remain very close to my mom, who lives in Houston, and my two sisters. I also have a three-year-old niece whom I absolutely adore … she reminds me of simple things and not to take life so seriously. Someday I hope to be a dad myself.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.