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Thursday, October 21, 2021 08:42 AM

Tabatha S. Wells, MD, FAAFP
2021 IAFP President Installation October 20, 2021

Dr. Wells is Program Director of the Carle Foundation Family Medicine Residency in Urbana.  She serves as Co-Chair of the IAFP Reproductive Health Member Interest Group and is also on the IAFP Family Medicine Educators Committee and Public Relations Task Force.  She has served as the Illinois Minority Delegate to the American Academy of Family Physicians National Conference of Constituency Leaders and is the first ever Indigenous woman elected as IAFP President. She was installed as president on October 20, 2021 by IAFP Past President and Past AAFP Speaker of the Congress of Delegates Javette C. Orgain, MD, MPH, FAAFP of Chicago. The event was a virtual meeting, but Dr. Orgain and Dr. Wells met in person in Chicago for the installation while the rest of the board joined by Zoom.  Below is her inauguration address to the board.   You can view the Installation and her speech here. 

Recovery and a Renewal
Photo by Sara Way - SIU MedicineMy story begins in Chicago public schools where I announced on stage at preschool graduation that I was going to be a physician (mostly because they wouldn’t “let me” be any of the other things I wanted to be like a horse and a fire truck). I am the daughter of two parents that did not have the luxury of graduating from high school before entering the work force full time. However, both of my parents supported me from the start and believed that I would achieve my goal. It was a long hard road but with the support of many along the way, I made it. I never could have imagined back then that I would one day be the IAFP President. I have realized over the years the only things that feed my soul as much as being a family physician, and an Academy leader, are going to Disney World and a good game of Roller Derby! Sadly, my roller derby career ended two and a half years ago when injured my shoulder. Two months ago, after all of the conservative treatments failed, I finally decided to end my suffering and have rotator cuff surgery.

Just as my shoulder must recover from the old injury and the recent impact of the surgery to fix it, we too, must all recover from a wounded past and a recent trauma. Primary care physicians have been on the front lines since the pandemic began, and there is evidence collected from those physicians that significant damage is being done to our colleagues across the country.

The Larry Green Center for Health Policy published an article over the summer, which brought to light the issues they learned through their monthly COVID Impact on Primary Care surveys from around the country. Of the respondents, 40% of doctors worry primary care will disappear in five years while 21% say they plan to leave primary care within three years. This is shocking and saddening. Because we’ve never needed primary care more. We need those doctors, and we need the future family physicians who are just now plowing through a uniquely challenging medical school experience.
I see this as OUR CHALLENGE for all of us to demonstrate the facts
-Primary care is needed,
-Primary Care is exceptional and
-Family Medicine is not going away and in fact deserves priority support in our nation’s recovery.

The Green Center called for the federal government to change policy around primary care to protect it as a common good. That means we must change how it's financed and paid, and move away from fee-for-service models. I look forward to working with AAFP, other chapters and our allies, which means health care professional and patients, from around the country in this work.

At the same time, it is up to each of us as leaders and every family physician to make a better primary care system a reality. We must personally recruit and encourage today’s young medical student, college student, high school student or even that cute little kiddo who loves to play with your stethoscope to JOIN US in family medicine.

The world has changed in some amazing ways in the almost 20 years since I was a first year medical student. We’ve had our first Black president and we have our first woman in the White House. Likewise I have witnessed and relished in the creation and growth of our member constituencies at the National Conference for Constituent Leaders, having served as the minority and new physician delegate over the years. I’m excited that AAFP has a Black woman as board chair and president elect in the same year. I’m also honored to be among the many women and minority physicians and medical students on this IAFP Board of Directors.

Before 2020, COVID-19 didn’t exist. We didn’t widely recognize social determinants of health, but we sure knew about them from our personal experiences. The COVID pandemic brought these disparities into the spotlight, and they’ve been laid bare for us and the entire world to see. Those disparities led to higher infection and death rates from COVID in communities of color and lower socioeconomic status, as well as those who live in disconnected rural communities. Now some of those same people are among those who are not ready or willing to take the COVID vaccine.

"While the pressure is now on primary care to convert the most vaccine-hesitant, little has been done to support primary care to date," Rebecca Etz, co-director of the Larry A. Green Center, said in a statement. We’re the ones who are working hard to get our communities immunized and protected. From the Southern Illinois trusted voices like Dr. Jeffrey Ripperda in Murphysboro, to Dr. Loren Hughes in Metro East, to Dr. Carl Lambert in Chicago. We have family physician leaders like Dr. Kiran Joshi, Dr. Whitney Lyn and the other Cook County physicians who put their voice and face on TV asking their communities to trust them and get vaccinated. We are the ones out there every day in our practices, in our communities taking every opportunity to help because that’s what we do. Our patients trust us more than just about anyone. Our biggest obstacle has been the misinformation coming from many angles that some of them are choosing to trust more right now. It’s frustrating, but we must persevere and keep talking the talk.

We are creating and delivering better care in a safe place for the LGBTQ community. The care that they have always deserved.

We continue our work to reduce maternal mortality, especially among Black mothers. As co-chair of the IAFP’s Reproductive Health Care Member Interest Group, I’m proud to devote energy to meaningful legislation here in Illinois. And I will join with my colleagues to fight against anyone in any state that would take away a woman’s right to any health care service or her physician’s ability to provide it, or even discuss it. I have been delivering testimony and participating in advocacy throughout my career, dating back to college and now I’ve got the biggest platform and microphone I’ve ever had. 

Together, family physicians just like us, including our medical students will be needed in our efforts to recover from the damage inflicted on everyone. Not just by the COVID pandemic, and public health threats like addiction, infection and cancer. But also the damage caused by systemic racism, bigotry and biases, in all their forms. We will continue our work learning, teaching, growing and caring.

I wouldn’t be standing here today to talk about the need and plan for recovery and renewal if I didn’t have so many amazing people in my life. so I want to take a moment to thank Dr. Janet Albers and Dr. Amber Barnhart because without them I never would have had the opportunity to become involved with the academy, Dr. Careyana Brenham for being the best teacher and mentor a princess could ever ask for, Dr. Evelyn Figueroa for making me kick it up a notch and believe in myself, Vince Keenan just for being you, all of the other IAFP staff and board members both past and present, my parents, friends and family, and legion of other that are too numerous too name. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support and guidance over the years.

And now I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate this next chapter of my life by celebrating the 5th anniversary of my 35th birthday with my academy family!  
[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Happy Birthday from IAFP!]