The myths and truths about med-peds physicians

Yes, med-peds is a real residency! It is a real specialty! And it is a practicing profession by many physicians today! It can open doors for so many wonderful professional opportunities. It is a discipline that can provide patients and communities extremely comprehensive medical care. People need to know more about this unique and sometimes under-recognized field. And here is why:

Like many people today, I didn’t even know what med-peds was when I entered medical school. I remember chatting with some of my medical school friends about how foreign the term “med-peds” sounded.

I remember the first time I had to scrub in as a medical student. I was so scared I was going to scrub my hands the wrong way. I was so tense walking into the operating room. I was worried I was going to touch something I shouldn’t, walk somewhere I shouldn’t, or be in someone’s way. Being in the OR was probably one of the most stressful and unnatural places I found myself in. To this day, I admire all surgeons (including my husband) who feel at home working in the OR.

Thankfully, I learned very early I did not belong in the OR. Late into my third year of medical school, I gravitated toward internal medicine and pediatrics which were two of my favorite rotations.

Med-peds residency is a different type of residency, and after learning more about it, it was a perfect fit for me. I loved being able to learn how to care for newborns while at the same time learning how to administer palliative care to an elderly patient who was dying. We have intense training in the hospital setting, but we also have heavy outpatient clinical responsibilities as part of our residency curriculum. Each day was an adventure in residency. As a med-peds hospitalist today, I never walk away from a day at work thinking it was boring or mundane.

I write this article to hopefully bring more med-peds awareness and how valuable of a field it truly is. Even though it has been in existence for years, there are still misperceptions about med-peds among medical professionals and patients.

When I tell a patient I am a med-peds physician, they often only hear the word “peds,” and they automatically think I am trained only in pediatrics. I love getting to explain that in my profession, I get to learn all the complex medical illnesses that can occur from cradle to grave. I love the fact that when patients ask me questions, I am not only able to answer questions about their health, but I also can answer questions about their children and grandchildren’s health.

One of my favorite components of being a med-peds physician is the rich specialty knowledge that surrounds us in our practice. We get to discuss cases with cardiologists, pulmonologists, gastroenterologists, and many other specialists from both the pediatric and internal medicine worlds. We have close working relationships with these specialists often because we are working in the same internal medicine or pediatric department. I have grown as a physician and learned so much from both internal medicine and pediatric specialists in my career.

If there is one misperception that I want to obliterate about med-peds, it is the following: the question of truly being able to practice both. When I began to pursue a residency in med-peds, I did have some voice concern to me that I could never practice both. I was told I would never be able to “keep up” with both fields. This is 100 percent not true if one truly desires to practice both. With state CME requirements, pursuing dual board certification/recertification, meeting MOC requirements, and the vast resources at our fingertips with smartphones, keeping up is not an issue today. On social media, I often see multiple times a week various medical articles posted by both my pediatric and internal medicine colleagues. I have a medical app that sends me notices on my phone about the latest and greatest guidelines/medications for various diseases. Keeping up with both fields is easier than ever compared to the early days of med-peds.

Another misperception I want to address is that we as med-peds physicians pursue this residency because we are unsure of what we want to do with the rest of our lives. It’s the “undecided” major in the medical residency world. While this may be true for some, many of my med-peds physician friends and I knew exactly what we were doing. We were hungry for a broad knowledge of medicine. We were eager to train and learn how to care for the sickest patients no matter what age. We spent months in the NICU, PICU, and MICU during our training. Whether we ended up as intensivists, hospitalists, specialists, or outpatient physicians, being trained as a med-peds physician prepared us greatly for independent practice.

Yes, a med-peds residency is four years long (the longest training in primary care medicine). Yes, you have to take two board certifications at the end of residency. You have MOC and CME requirements necessary for both fields. Perhaps that is a deterrent for some. For me, it was never a deterrent. I love being able to treat COPD and diagnose pyloric stenosis in any given day (maybe even the same day)!

It’s time to shine a brighter light on the value of training and having med-peds physicians practicing in our communities.

We have a physician shortage at our doorstep in this country. The med-peds physician is going to be an invaluable physician as the crisis becomes prominent. We are two physicians in one. And with those who pursue specialty training, we may be three or four physicians in one.

If you are a patient looking for a new doctor for you and your family, look into finding a local med-peds physician. If you are a local community hospital needing a physician to care for both children and adults, take a closer look at the med-peds physician’s CV. And if you are a medical student looking for a field that is cerebrally rich and prepares you to treat and manage a simple hangnail or neonatal sepsis at a moment’s notice, this field is calling your name.

Andrea Lauffer is a hospitalist.

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