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Careers in Family Medicine: Academic Medicine

We are continuing our blog series, Careers in Family Medicine. Each week over the next 3-4 months, I will highlight a family physician and their career paths. Each one will share their pearls. So far, we have highlighted examples of Rural Practice and Value Based Care. This week, we will focus on Academic Medicine as learn from Dr. Grace Shih, Director of the Family Medicine Residency Network, and her career path.

Grace, please give the readers an overview of your career in family medicine.

I had a circuitous route to family medicine. I started out as an OBG resident but felt that the litigious relationship between OBGs and patients was destructive to the partnership I wanted to have with my patients. Halfway through my intern year, I made the difficult decision to leave, unsure if I would continue pursuing a medical career. Fortunately, I had mentors who reminded me why I was interested in medicine. I feel grateful every day to those who guided me to family medicine.


My career in family medicine has evolved as my interests have shifted and grown. After residency, I completed a fellowship in family planning. I joined as residency faculty after fellowship, doing full spectrum care (outpatient, inpatient, OB) with a clinical & teaching focus on sexual and reproductive health. After about 10 years, I decided to focus on outpatient care to make room for my growing interest in faculty development. I’m now Director of the Family Medicine Residency Network, where I’m fortunate to be surrounded by leaders in our specialty who think critically about family medicine, particularly within communities facing healthcare shortages.  


What lessons did you learn along the way?

Understanding and remaining true to your core values is crucial. Opting for a job or role that contradicts these principles can result in significant unhappiness and discontent. Being aware of my values has empowered me to make tough choices when confronted with professional hurdles. It has given me the confidence to distance myself from paths that deviate from my core beliefs.


What are your favorite parts of your roles currently?

One of my favorite aspects of my job is teaching. Teaching is the common thread that runs through all of my professional responsibilities. Being a family physician is being an educator to your patients. I’m lucky to have a job that involves teaching medical students, residents, fellows, and faculty.


I love the creative process of teaching. It pushes me to think critically and deepen my own knowledge and understanding. There’s no better feeling than witnessing that “aha” moment when someone grasps a concept or makes a breakthrough.


In addition to teaching, I must also mention the incredible colleagues I have the privilege of working with. They make work fun and provide positive challenges that fuel personal and professional growth. I’m grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with them and collectively contribute to the field of family medicine. 


What three tips would you tell those who are looking at options for their first job in family medicine?  

  • Know what you love: Make sure at least 20% of your job involves work that aligns with your passions. That 20% is protective against long-term burnout.
  • Don’t expect your first job to be perfect: Be open-minded and flexible as you navigate the early stages of your career. Embrace the opportunities for growth and learning that come with any job, and use these experiences to shape your professional trajectory.
  • Make time for personal and professional growth: Consider starting with a slightly reduced workload, like 0.8 FTE. This allows you the freedom to explore new opportunities, make career transitions, and expand your skill set.


How have you enhanced your personal and professional fulfillment over time?

I like to envision my job as a plate, where I consciously protect and prioritize the aspects that are most nurturing to me.

Just like an adventurous eater, I have tried new things in my professional journey. I approach these new experiences mindfully, paying attention to how they make me feel and assessing if they align with my long-term goals and values. If something resonates with me and brings me fulfillment, I ensure that it remains a part of my "plate" in the long run.

By being intentional and selective, I have been able to craft a fulfilling and nourishing career. I have protected the parts that align with my passions and values while incorporating new elements that contribute to my growth and development. This mindful approach has allowed me to create a professional path that brings me joy, satisfaction, and a sense of purpose.

How do you integrate work with life outside?

This is a difficult question because each person’s life circumstances are different. Here is what has helped me, as a married person with 2 kids.


Having a partner to share responsibilities has been invaluable. We work as a team to figure out how to fit all the pieces of our lives together. We divide household tasks and child-rearing duties. With stay in sync with a variety of tools - shared calendars, to-do lists, and a whiteboard for home projects.


Be transparent with yourself and others: It's important to be honest about your needs and limitations. Recognize that it's not a sign of weakness to ask for help or support. If you start to feel overwhelmed, take notice of those feelings and proactively reach out for assistance before it becomes unmanageable. Share your challenges and concerns with trusted colleagues, friends, or family members who can provide guidance or lend a helping hand.


Prioritize and set boundaries: Clearly define your priorities both at work and in your personal life. Determine what matters most to you and allocate time and energy accordingly. Learn to say no to non-essential commitments to protect your personal time and avoid taking on too much.


Be adaptable. Life is always changing and what works in one phase, may not work in another. It’s just like quality improvement projects in clinic – you must try new strategies and evaluate how things are going!


Anything else that you’d like to share?

Thanks for giving me this chance to reflect and share my story. I hope it helps your readers!


Great! Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom with the readers. How can people find you if they want to talk more? [email protected]

So many pearls contained here. I'd love to hear from you what you found helpful.  

Next week, we'll dive into being a family physician working globally with the US Department of State - Dr. John Brewer. Don't miss any in this series; sign-up to have them delivered to your inbox. 

Until then, have a joy-filled week! Tonya



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