A Career in Family Medicine Makes Work-Life Balance Achievable

Anne Kittendorf, MD, FAAFP

by Dana Lawrence, MAFP Director of Communications

This is the third in a series of Women’s History Month articles celebrating the contributions of female Family Physicians in Michigan.

As the mother of two teenage girls, Anne Kittendorf MD, FAAFP (Dexter) understands the challenges of juggling family needs and work demands. An academic Family Physician who cares for newborns through geriatric patients, and a teacher of medical students and residents at the University of Michigan, Dr. Kittendorf has found Family Medicine to be a fantastic career for women because of its variety of practice locations and types, and its flexibility in meeting ever-evolving personal needs and interests.

“Our experiences as women with our own medical care needs, and as mothers and daughters and caregivers, help to inform our ability to take care of families in a unique way. There are so many opportunities to pursue whatever your passions—including research, teaching, full-spectrum or even narrow scope practice—within Family Medicine,” she says to women working toward a career as a Family Doctor. “Seeking mentors who can help guide you in making your own work-life balance choices is important—mentors that practice medicine and prioritize their own personal balances in ways you would aspire to.”

Seek Like-Minded Mentors

Dr. Kittendorf counts herself fortunate to have like-minded mentors who have coached her through academic and professional accomplishments, many whom she said were tremendous examples of aiming to create balance in their own lives. She notes that the opportunities she has pursued have nearly always come because someone approached her and supported her forward.

A 2001 and 2004 graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School and Family Medicine Residency, respectively, Dr. Kittendorf admits she did not always know she wanted to be a doctor. With a curiosity for exploring possibilities, she took a wide variety of classes as an undergraduate and considered going into teaching or environmental law, and attending graduate or medical school.

When it came down to it, she was most intrigued by a career in science where she could work directly with people she could help.

“There is no other career in medicine that matched my desire to develop long-term relationships with patients and their families and help them face all sorts of challenges as they walk through the various stages in their lives. It is so rewarding for me to take care of multiple generations based on a foundation of trust and understanding that comes only from building long-term relationships,” she said of her specialty.

Invest in Self-Care

The unique longevity of the patient-Family Physician relationship is as challenging as it is rewarding for Dr. Kittendorf, however. It can be emotionally difficult to work with families as they go through hard times personally and medically, she explained, oftentimes making it hard to leave the engagement at work and not take it home.

That is why she protects the time she needs to recharge and make sure her personal life is running as smoothly as possible. This entails self-care, which for Dr. Kittendorf translates into prioritizing exercise, healthy meals, sleep, and down-time to travel and unplug from work whenever she reasonably can.

“These were goals of mine early in my career, and I have not regretted it,” she said, noting she has chosen to eliminate inpatient and obstetric care from her practice, and to work less than full-time so she is able to spend more quality moments with her family—something that has taken on greater urgency as her daughters prepare for high school graduation.

Dr. Kittendorf also volunteers time to the Academy, which she said is a very approachable organization full of members with an overarching goal similar to hers: providing excellent care, at a good value, that helps patients of all walks of life improve their health.

It’s this commonality that she says makes it easy to stay engaged in Academy committee and leadership work. Today Dr. Kittendorf serves as chair of the Michigan Family Medicine Political Action Committee Board of Directors and is also a member of MAFP’s Advocacy Committee. She previously served on the MAFP Board of Directors (2005-2012), represented Michigan Family Physicians at the National Conference of Special Constituencies (now National Conference of Constituency Leaders), fulfilled the role of Special Constituencies Delegate to the AAFP Congress of Delegates (2008), and was AAFP's representative to the Young Physicians Section of the American Medical Association (2009-2011).

“I first joined AAFP and MAFP as a resident and soon learned that being involved allowed me to see the bigger picture of how medical care is provided in Michigan and the U.S. It also provided me countless opportunities to better understand and impact the challenges we face in delivering primary care,” she said.

Advocate for Your Patients & Yourself

As she looks to the future, Dr. Kittendorf anticipates that Family Medicine physicians will continue to push the envelope in transforming what medical practice can be.

“I think Family Physicians desire different patient care delivery models, and our patients demand this as well. We need to continue to engage with policymakers, insurance organizations, hospitals, etc. to make sure our own needs as doctors are also being met as we continue to focus on providing value-based, high-quality care to patients when and where they need it,” she said, adding that her chosen profession ensures not a day goes by that she doesn’t learn something new about medicine, or about herself.

Related articles:

Family Physicians: The Backbone of the Healthcare System: Tina Tanner, MD, FAAFP

Women in (Michigan) Family Medicine: Srikala Yedavally-Yellayi, DO, MEd