Reflection on 41 Years in the Department of Family Medicine

Johanna Shapiro, PhD.

When I applied for a position of behavioral scientist, in modern parlance known as a behavioral health specialist,  in the UCI Department of Family Medicine, I had never heard of family medicine. I had no idea it was a medical specialty like surgery or pediatrics.  And when I gave that key interview presentation, the chair fell asleep. Somehow, despite these failings I was still hired.  I quickly learned two things. One was how to avoid boring my chair into oblivion; and two was what family medicine was all about.  And I fell in love – not with my chair, because I was already married with two little kids – but with family medicine. 

At that time, family medicine was still a very young specialty, and it rightly considered itself revolutionary.  It advocated a different approach to patient care – one that cared for the whole patient, whole families, whole communities, especially those  marginalized and neglected by the larger society.  I was also pretty young, so in a way family medicine and I came of age together.  Family Medicine had a huge influence on my professional values and priorities, the way I defined the nature of my work in the world, and even upon who I am as a person.  Family Medicine inspired me to be a more committed scholar and I hope a better person.
In addition to owing a great debt of gratitude to the specialty itself, I must express my deep gratitude to the UCI Family Medicine department.  No matter the crazy twists and turns of my career, the department ,and so many people in this room and not in this room, always supported me. My chairs and colleagues always believed in me and my vision, and allowed me space to pursue it.  Like a family, the department nurtured and protected me, while encouraging me to spread my wings and explore.  It was a source of encouragement and celebration when I soared and a safe haven when I flew too close to the sun.  Although I am not a family physician, I’ve internalized the values and commitments of every family doc I’ve known: to care for those in need, to bear witness to those who suffer, and to just show up and be present whenever possible.

I’m so thankful to have been part of this great specialty for over 40 years; and I thank all the family doctors who “adopted” and welcomed me into their home.