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Community Service and the Role of the FMIG

Ashley DeVilbiss Bieck, MPA, American Academy of Family Physicians, Leawood, KS

One of the core values of the discipline of family medicine is the integrated care of patients within the context of the community.1 Increasingly, Departments of Family and Community Medicine have taken a direct interest in their community and, specifically, “service” to the community. Examples of departmental engagement in community-based service/field activities include: student-run free health clinics, patient education, student immersion activities, and service based-learning opportunities.

Of special note is the role that Family Medicine Interest Groups (FMIGs) play in community engagement. FMIGs can act as an extension of the Family Medicine Department in serving communities, as well as supplementing the medical student’s community interaction experiences. In addition to enhanced knowledge of the discipline and increased family medicine exposure, the mission of many FMIGs is to promote service and outreach to the local communities. There are four pillars that define community service initiatives—they must be student-generated, student-run, voluntary, and extracurricular.2 By Eckenfels definition, the entire programming of most FMIGs could be defined as service learning. Such activities may also help improve the health of marginalized communities while educating students in community medicine and public health.3

To get a better sense of the extent of service provided by FMIG, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recently surveyed all 138 FMIGs at both main and regional campus locations. The FMIG Activity Survey asked the respondents to report on the type of their community service activities, the number of medical school members participating in those activities, the total number of hours of the activities, and the number of community members who benefited from the service. Fifty-five of the 138 FMIGs responded to the survey, for a response rate of 39.1%.

Survey respondents reported involving 6,477 medical students who donated 12,793 volunteer hours of service that benefited 28,363 community members across the United States. On average, a given FMIG involved 117 medical students throughout the year on community service projects, with each student giving an average of 2 hours of service.

Many of the FMIG respondents participated in more than one type of community service event during the year. Half of the FMIGs participated in AAFP-sponsored Tar Wars programs, put on community health fairs, participated in Student-run Free Health Clinics, had service projects during National Primary Care Week, and/or gave community or school-based wellness education presentations. Some FMIGs also identified other types of community service activities, including food drives, blood drives, 5K run/walks, on-campus volunteerism and global health activities.

The survey results demonstrate that FMIGs provide an important opportunity for students, especially M1s and M2s, to get out in the community and interact with community members. Since medical schools are under increasing pressure from their state legislatures to illustrate their impact on the community, documenting FMIG activities and sharing them with the medical school administration is yet another way for faculty to show the importance of family medicine within the medical school. FMIG faculty advisors have the opportunity to help publicize this message and encourage FMIGs to participate in community service projects if they are not already doing so. They should document their students’ interaction and impact on local communities. These findings, along with the unique orientation of family medicine to community medicine and public health, can then be shared with other students, with colleagues from other departments, with legislators, and with the broader community.

1. Martin JC, Avant RF, Bowman MA, Future of Family Medicine Project Leadership Committee, et al. The Future of Family Medicine: A collaborative project of the family medicine community. Ann Fam Med 2004 Mar-April;2 Suppl 1:S3-S32.

2. Eckenfels E. The purpose of service learning. Fam Med 2009;41(9):659-62.

3. Institute of Medicine. Committee on Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st Century. The future of the public’s health in the 21st century.Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2003.


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