Keeping Family Physicians in the Driver’s Seat

By: Gary LeRoy, MD, FAAFP

I’m from Dayton, Ohio. Not only is Dayton, Ohio the official birthplace of aviation, it is also indirectly responsible for the birth of the Indianapolis 500 motor speedway. It was during a drive from Dayton, Ohio in 1908 when Carl Fisher’s car had a tire failure on the dirt road while driving back to Indiana. The automobile industry was in its formative years but rapidly growing. While stranded on the road Fisher’s traveling companion, Lem Trotter, asked him, “Why don’t you build that track?” Fisher had talked about building a massive testing track for automobiles but had never done anything to make it a reality until Dayton’s disastrous dirt roads provided fuel for an idea that would eventually spawn the Indianapolis Motor Parkway. Ironically, the little town of French Lick was Fisher’s initial choice for the track but was abandoned because it was too hilly. They settled instead on 320 acres of flat farmland that give birth, on Memorial Day weekend in 1911, to what Fisher described as, “the grandest grind ever,” to test “man and machine” in a 500-mile race on a 2.5-mile track paved with bricks instead of dangerous dirt.

Working together as a well-rehearsed pit crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the UAFP can – not unlike Mr. Carl Fisher – create a tradition of taking imagined ideas and making them an enduring reality. Sometimes it feels as if the practice of medicine is struggling to gain traction on that same old dirt road we have traveled in the past. We can either sit on the side of the road complaining about our disastrous misfortune or we can build a better future by using the bricks and mortar of ingenuity to provide us with the intentional traction we desire. The practice of medicine should not be viewed as “the grandest [daily] grind ever.” I compared the frustration of the solo/independent or employed physician to that of the Indy car driver who is attempting to win a daily race by pumping his/her own gas during each pit stop. Winning the race is impossible if we insist in pumping our own gas (inputting data) and changing our own tires (completing prior authorizations and pounds of paperwork) between each patient encounter. This results in many of the recognized symptoms of burnout in medical practice.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to keep the physician in the driver’s seat so she/he can joyfully win the race each day. Get off the dirt road so we can boldly go to new places. Let’s start our collective engines with victory in mind.

Gary LeRoy, MD, FAAFP is president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This is an except of Dr. LeRoy’s full report of his May 2019 visit to Utah for the Annual UAFP Member Dinner. His full report will be published this fall in the bi-annual UAFP magazine.