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By Christian Lobo

A recent report by the Healthcare Association of New York State focuses needed attention on the critical doctor shortage in Western New York and statewide, and recommends efforts to encourage students to practice primary care. Researchers from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services report the shortage of primary care physicians could continue to grow, further decreasing access to proper and prompt care, and contributing to a higher incidence of serious health problems.

As our national discourse continues to recognize the value of primary care physicians, subsequent reforms are enabling primary care to once again be a rewarding specialty choice – both financially and professionally. Medical students urgently need to be informed of this trend while deciding on a specialty.

As a second-year medical student enthusiastic about becoming a primary care physician, I have benefited greatly from collaborative efforts between the University at Buffalo, Independent Health and a pioneering group of community physicians known as the Primary Connection. They have provided meaningful training and mentoring, including numerous seminars and discussions with doctors representing a wide range of specialties, that students like me desperately need in order to understand primary care as a potential specialty choice.

Last summer I interned with Kathleen Mylotte, M.D., a medical director at Independent Health, to study the potential of primary care physicians to lead transformation in our health care system.

Mylotte and her colleagues connected me with numerous local physicians leading change in Western New York, at practices like Jericho Road Community Health Center and Jefferson Family Medicine. Together, they helped me understand the value of team-based medical care, get a big-picture view of health care and learn first-hand what it will take to lead change.

I have always seen myself as a problem-solver and by pursuing a career in primary care I feel I can contribute to improving our nation’s health care system by emphasizing prevention and a comprehensive, cooperative approach to health and well-being. We urgently need this as millions of Americans finally gain access to care through the health exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act. They need physicians who practice primary care.

I am grateful to all who have educated me and opened my eyes to the challenges we face as a region and nation. Wherever I practice medicine, the core values I developed while working with Independent Health and the Primary Connection will influence the direction my career takes.

Christian Lobo is a student in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.