Family Medicine Resident Physicians on the Frontline of COVID-19

April 7, 2020—As social distancing and other strategies continue to ramp-up in the worldwide effort to “flatten the curve” and ultimately eradicate COVID-19, healthcare teams spanning all specialties and credentials are joining forces to address the ever-increasing demand for care. To date, more than 700 deaths and 17,000 illnesses are attributed to COVID-19 in Michigan, currently ranking it third among the states.

Among the frontline responders are family physicians—primary care doctors trained to care for most ailments and dedicated to treating the whole person at all stages of life.

“Family Medicine is facing this pandemic like no other specialty, on multiple fronts…all ages and ranges (young, old, male, female, elderly, pregnant) and in all arenas (offices, homes, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters),” explained Michael Bishop, MD, FAAFP, director of the Mercy Health Grand Rapids Family Medicine residency.

In typical circumstances, approximately one in five medical office visits are made to family physicians for primary and preventive care, like immunizations, annual physicals, well child checks, in-office procedures, and the seasonal flu, to name just a few. Today, many family doctors have transitioned to providing virtual care while others have been deployed to the center of the COVID-19 response to triage patients, staff drive-through clinics, and care for the sickest of the sick.

Oakland County in the Hot Spot

Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital—the training site for Wayne State University Family Medicine and Transitional Year residents located in Michigan’s Oakland County, one of the hardest-hit counties of the state and nation—is quickly becoming a primarily COVID-19 hospital.

“All of our family medicine and transitional year residents are on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 virus in our hospital,” said Pierre Morris, MD, clinical assistant professor and residency program director for the Wayne State University / Ascension Family Medicine and Transitional Year residency programs.

“Our residents have joined COVID-19 teams headed by our family medicine faculty physicians and have also joined our hospital ICU COVID teams headed by our pulmonologists, providing direct care to the most critically ill patients, many of whom remain intubated. It is a daunting task that is persistently physically and emotionally draining, but our residents and faculty continue to confront this challenge daily. The COVID-19 virus has also affected our family medicine clinic practice, where our residents are conducting telemedicine visits for our patients who continue to need our care. We are essentially at war against the ravages of this virus; it is truly an unprecedented public health emergency."

Dr. Morris went on to share that in addition to the program’s current residents being front and center in this battle, “we also have many of our incoming residents from the recent 2020 residency Match who are volunteering to step up and help on the frontlines, treating COVID-19 infected patients.”

While resident physicians’ rigorous training has prepared them to provide comprehensive care in a variety of settings and crises, caring for an infected patient while donning just a surgical mask or an over-used N95 has left many feeling understandably anxious about their own health.

They have forged ahead, however, self-sacrificing to attend to patients’ needs and protect their colleagues.

“One of our family medicine interns offered to take the place of a third-year resident assigned to the COVID-19 team because he is inherently at higher risk for complications due to his asthma. One of our chief residents volunteered to be the first family medicine resident on our hospital’s COVID-19 treatment team so he could share his experience and prepare future residents assigned to the team. Stories like these are reflections of resident physicians’ dedication to helping in this pandemic and they view it as their ultimate duty as physicians. Yes, they are afraid, and some even terrified, but they return to the fight every morning without fail,” said Dr. Morris.

Token of Appreciation

To thank family medicine residents for their service and sacrifice, Michigan Academy of Family Physicians / Family Medicine Foundation of Michigan has offered gift cards to each family medicine residency program in Michigan to assist with purchasing meals from a local restaurant.

“While your Academy is working hard to provide information in real time on its COVID-19 webpage, host informational webinars, and advocate for the financial support, personal protective equipment, and practice management pathways members need to be able to continue providing care, Michigan Academy of Family Physicians and Family Medicine Foundation of Michigan leadership and staff recognize a warm meal might provide a few moments of comfort for residents on the frontline,” said MAFP Chief Executive Officer and FMFM Executive Vice President Karlene Ketola, MSA, CAE.

“On behalf of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors and Family Medicine Foundation Board of Trustees, thank you to all members of our Academy as you care for your neighbors and your communities. Your sacrifice, service, healthcare delivery, and leadership are tremendously appreciated.”

Click here for a video message to family medicine residents in MIchigan from Julie Thai, MD, MPH, resident representative on the MAFP Board of Directors.

Bolstering the Healthcare Workforce

Recognizing that the current healthcare workforce cannot keep up with the influx of COVID-19 patients as well as manage chronic conditions that persist amidst the pandemic (yes, people continue to need help managing their diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions), the state and federal governments have taken steps to expand the workforce.

The State of Michigan’s website, Michigan.gov/FightCOVID19, is a place where qualified medical professionals can sign up to be called upon for volunteer positions in areas of need. On this site, community members can also volunteer for a variety of other roles and donate materials or make appointments to donate blood.

To bolster the healthcare workforce, Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs recognize the critical need for current graduating allopathic and osteopathic medical students to be licensed as quickly as possible. To that end, applications for an educational limited license can be completed at www.michigan.gov/miplus. For more information about this Michigan licensure, click here.