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Family Medicine Faculty Members Set Up Their Own Foundation

By Lois Baker

Release Date: March 4, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Taking its cue from the adage, "If you want a job done right, do it yourself," faculty members in the Department of Family Medicine at the University at Buffalo, using deductions from their own paychecks, have started a foundation to support work they think is important, but for which funding is not available.

"There is no 'National Institute of Primary Care,'" said Thomas C. Rosenthal, M.D., professor and chair of the department. "Getting funding for basic primary-care health-services research or for small start-up projects to help new faculty establish a record is extremely hard.

"We tried to think of a way to accomplish the things consistent with our mission, like community-outreach projects, as well as family-medicine research. But we couldn't spend state or hospital dollars, and we couldn't tax ourselves, so we decided to start a foundation to which we could contribute. With budget cuts from the state, we'll have to take more responsibility for our own future."

The Family Medicine Foundation was established last June, with the help of the UB Foundation, as a way for the department to help itself. Word soon circulated through the family-medicine community, and by year's end, there was $20,000 in the bank. The foundation receives more than $500 a month in payroll deductions from faculty members, and is hoping to generate support from community-based family physicians and corporations.

Raymond Bissonette, Ph.D., associate professor of family medicine and director of the new foundation, named several projects the foundation is considering for funding. The list includes a professorship in primary-care education or research, a medical-education specialist to help develop curriculum, outfitting exam rooms in underserved communities, financial support for cross-cultural residency training, grants to send medical students to work with rural and urban underserved populations, and money to pay stipends to

physicians to supervise medical students and residents who want to work at Vivé, the Buffalo center for refugees, and other community sites.

"One of our primary missions is to teach residents and medical students the principles of family-centered medicine," Bissonette said. "The demand for primary-care physicians is growing in this managed-care environment, yet support for family medicine education is shrinking. The foundation gives us a formal mechanism to supplement our resources and help fulfill our mission."

Recruiting medical students who are interested in primary-care fields is a major goal of the UB medical school, and offering a cross-cultural track, as well as experience in community clinics and underserved areas, helps in both attracting new students and attracting the right type of student, Bissonette said.

"Students interested in a cross-cultural experience are also more likely to be interested in a primary-care career. I think it's a connection worth nurturing. Exposure to other cultures also provides invaluable insights and knowledge."

Medical students and family-medicine residents in the past have worked in El Salvador, Kenya, Tanzania and Swaziland. "These experiences take students out of the high-tech model of Western medicine and force them to rely on their fund of knowledge, history-taking and clinical skills," Bissonette said. "It helps them see technology in its proper role. If we are going to be true to our mission, we need to encourage family physicians to settle and practice in areas of need. Cross-cultural experiences help prepare them for this role."

Edward Rayhill, M.D., retired Grand Island family physician and 1954 graduate of the UB medical school, heads the foundation's eight-member advisory board, composed of UB volunteer physicians. The board will help the department increase foundation contributions and decide which projects to fund.

"Hopefully, the foundation will provide seed money to enable the faculty and the department to do things in the community and the school that will interest students in family practice," Rayhill said.

"I feel family practice is the 'royal road' in medicine. I got to do everything in my career. I've assisted in dozens of surgeries and delivered hundreds of babies. I think many of my colleagues feel the same.

"We aren't going after big sums of money," Rayhill stated. "We're going for participation, collegiality. We hope we can continue to defray the expenses of educating students and make the UB Department of Family Medicine one of the finest in the country."

Contributions to the foundation, which are tax deductible, may be sent to: UB Foundation/Family Medicine, in care of Kathleen Duttge, executive officer, UB Department of Family Medicine, 462 Grider St., Buffalo, N.Y., 14215.