Primary Care Is About Relationships

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Op-Med ran the “Primary Care” contest in March 2018. We are excited to announce this piece as an honorable mention.

Why I chose primary care? When I was a boy, about 8 years old, my parents had a set of World Book Encyclopedias. One day, a salesman came by and sold them a home medical guide. I was fascinated! I read it from cover to cover multiple times. My favorite shows were “Medical Center” and “Marcus Welby M.D.”, and my parents would ask me questions about the shows and were amazed that I could explain the medical conditions! I read more, science, particularly biology became my favorite books to borrow from the library. I’d spend hours exploring woods, streams and even caves for interesting specimens. From that point onward, I was only interested in being a doctor.

High school came and went, then college. Honestly I struggled finding a balance between part time jobs, studying and spending time with family and friends. Finally, I found that balance, graduated and was accepted into medical school. While doing clinical rotations in my 3rd and 4th years, I went from wanting to be a trauma surgeon to an emergency medicine specialist. But one day, I was having a cup of coffee with a family practice resident and he suggested that I train in family medicine. That way, if I ever burnt out on emergency medicine, I could simply shift back to primary care. So I matched with a family practice residency here in town. You see I went to high school, college, medical school and residency all in the same county!

During residency we had outpatient clinic amongst our other duties. Suddenly visions of Dr. Welby and Dr. Gannon became a reality. This was what medicine was all about! I delivered babies and the next day saw patients in the nursing home. The variety and challenges were endless! As I rotated with surgeons, dermatologists, cardiologists, and other esteemed members of our medical community I began to hear unexpected things like, “I practice in such a limited scope but you have the chance to do a bit of everything!” But respect has to be earned. I admitted patients in the emergency room, followed them during their stay and oftentimes became their primary caregiver in our outpatient clinic. In my second year I started to moonlight and experienced true autonomy. While truly frightening, I found that it finally gave me a chance to develop diagnostic skills that otherwise would have taken much longer.

When I graduated, I thought about what kind of doctor I wanted to be. It wasn’t the television doctors at all. I thought back to our family doctor when I was a child. He was kind, funny and very good at what he did. As I started work as the newest doctor in a large group, my skills grew but more importantly, my ability to connect with the patients grew as well. It didn’t matter their age, background, I found I could almost always make a connection with a patient. Soon, I knew about their backgrounds, their jobs their families, their dreams, what made them who they were. I grew spiritually as well. As a Christian, I learned the importance of compassion. I didn’t browbeat my patients to get them to be complaint. Instead, I reasoned, taught, found new ways to convey important information. I found myself making difficult diagnoses while making even the easiest patient feel comfortable with my treatment.

As a husband and father, and with some personal difficulties to overcome I had become a student of life and learned how to integrate these lessons into the advice I gave patients. I developed the wisdom to learn that primary care is as much about teaching as treating and that good patient care starts with caring for your patients. Along the way I developed friendships with my patients, my staff and with two excellent physicians that I’ve practiced with for 25 years. We became known at the hospital system we now work for as the “Three Musketeers,” a moniker we enjoy very much. I became an associate clinical professor over ten years ago and try to impart to my students the lessons I learned in the classroom of an austere exam room when for a small, magical moment, it’s just you and the patient. Their problems versus my experience and we, the patient and I, almost always win.

Why did I choose primary care? What I’ve discovered is that it’s all about relationships. It’s why I stayed local for my training. All my friends and family were here. To me, family practice is about just that. Family. It’s something everyone truly desires. We’re hardwired for relationships. Family medicine has given me the opportunity to grow as a person and see my patients grow as well. Yes, there have been mistakes, losses and failures. They hurt. But the victories! Restoring health, restoring more than that, giving them hope. I see patients from all walks of life and from every corner of the world. I have the best job in the world. I’m a family practitioner and with my faith, my family, my friends and my practice, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dr. Calvin “Jeff” Mullins is a board certified Family Physician with over 25 years of experience. His practice is mainly adult medicine with an emphasis on geriatrics. He is also an associate clinical professor for the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences and was one of the first participants in their new geriatric and palliative care rotation.

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