Interview with a Family Physician

in Careers in Medicine, Health Care, Jobs that are fee for service

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Dr. Edward Pullen gets JobShadowed about his career as a Family Physician.  You can find him and his practice at www.drpullen.com and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a full time family physician. I take care of patients of all ages in an office based practice. I did maternity care for over 20 years, but now no longer attend deliveries.

How would you describe what you do?

I provide comprehensive continuity care for my patients. This means that I am available for disease management, acute problems when they come up and preventative care.

What does your work entail?

I primarily work in the office seeing patients. I also from time to time see patients at nursing homes or home visits. I also take turns with my associates in being available for night and weekend call, to allow all of our patients access to physician advice during times the office is not open.

What’s a typical work week like?

I work from about 7 AM to 6 PM M-W, have Thusdays off, and work until about 2 PM on Fridays. I am later in my career, until recently I worked until 6 PM on Fridays too. Some weekends I work in our urgent care clinic also.

How did you get started?

I attended college with an ROTC Army scholarship. I then went to med school at Tufts University in Boston. Then I did a family practice residency of 3 years in the Army at Madigan Army Medical Center, Tacoma, WA. After a 4 year service tour at the US MIlitary Academy hospital at West Point, NY, I resigned my commission and joined a group practice in Puyallup, WA.

What do you like about what you do?

Every day I see patients I know and try to help them with ongoing health concerns, and in addition see patients with new problems or concerns. It is almost always interesting, challenging enough to be stimulating but without the drama or acute life-threatening situations seen in some other medical specialties.

What do you dislike?

Sometimes I feel more like a clerk than a physician, completing innumerable forms for insurance, disability, labor and industries, employers and the government. This gets tedious.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I am paid a portion of our groups profits based primarily on the percentage of billing that I produce. This payment comes from third party payers (a.k.a. insurance companies) and from patients.

How much money do you make?

Family physicians make a wide variety of income, based on such things as how long and hard they work, whether they do obstetric care or other higher compensated procedures, and how many government payers patients they accept (Medicare and Medicaid). Most family physicians make between $125,000. and $225,000./ year for full time work.

How much money do you make starting out?

Income levels for family physicians has declined in today real dollars since I started practice. New graduate family physicians can expect to earn about $150,000./ year now if they are a strong enough candidate to get a good job. There is a great demand for FP physicians today.

What education or skills are needed to do this?

BA or BS degree, then 4 years of Medical school, then a 3 year Family Medicine residency Then pass board certification exams and recertify every 10 years.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The biggest challenge is to always be diligent to not miss a serious diagnosis while not doing excessive testing or diagnostic evaluation for problems that are minor or self limiting.

What is most rewarding?

Relationships over the years with patients and families.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Choose medicine because you really want to be a great physician, not for the prestige or money. Then work hard but have fun and make yourself the best you can be.

How much time off do you get/take?

Now I take about 6-8 weeks a year off, but early in my career I took more like 3-4 weeks a year.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I think some people think family physicians are just an entry point into the medical system, a source or referrals to specialists and for minor problems. In fact we can care for a wide variety of problems and seek consultation when we need help.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I hope to continue to practice until retirement and keep on doing the best job I can.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

Family medicine is important and should be a career choice that you make with open eyes. It is not easier than other specialties, and is in some ways more difficult, but the overall rewards are great.

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