Member of the Month
Michael Potter, MD, FAAFP
Michael Potter, MD, FAAFP, is a graduate of the Family Medicine Residency Program at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) – San Francisco General Hospital and has been practicing and teaching family medicine as a member of the UCSF faculty since 1994. Dr. Potter is also Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Collaborative Research Network (UCSF’s primary health care practice-based research network). Dr. Potter is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and possesses an AAFP Degree of Fellow.
Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it?
My interest in becoming a physician was sparked after college when I volunteered to work on a rural health project in Haiti. I could see firsthand the tremendous difference that basic medical services can make in the lives of individuals and communities. From there, I went to medical school at Harvard, where I observed that the most impactful interventions in medicine often have less to do with high tech procedures than the power we have as physicians to listen carefully and be there for patients over time. Family medicine seemed to be the specialty that best embodied these values. At the time, there was considerably less enthusiasm for primary care in academic medical centers, and choosing family medicine seemed to require a leap of faith. Fortunately, I landed at San Francisco General Hospital for my family medicine residency. There I found brilliant colleagues, outstanding role models, and a diverse community of patients with amazing life stories and many unmet health needs. I have never regretted my choice!
What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
Every day brings surprises, but what becomes most memorable for me are relationships with patients I have had the longest. I still care for a few patients that I first saw as an intern. Not long ago, the granddaughter of one of my earliest patients brought her twins to see me, making this the first four-generation family that I have gotten to know as a doctor. Just this week another patient I have cared for since 1991 brought me a bottle of cognac “to celebrate our 25 years together.” I’m not much of a cognac enthusiast, but I was touched almost to tears that he had kept track of this milestone. It has become an unanticipated privilege to be able to share clinical wisdom gleaned from longstanding relationships such as these with UCSF medical students, more and more of whom in recent years are following our footsteps into family medicine.
What have you enjoyed about your career in academic medicine?
I have found the daily practice of family medicine to be an important foundation for my academic work at UCSF. Early on in my career, I was given the opportunity to complete a clinical research fellowship focusing on practice-based research. I began to think about studying simple innovations that might make it easier to deliver care to patients and to test them out in real-world settings. For example, one now widely accepted activity that has been supported by my research is the idea of engaging clinical teams to bundle preventive services such as cancer screenings with other well-established clinical activities like annual influenza vaccination campaigns. The FluFIT Program is now an official program of the American Cancer Society that is actively promoted in community health centers across the country. Currently, as the leader of the San Francisco Bay Area Collaborative Research Network, one of my jobs is to facilitate mutually beneficial research and practice improvement partnerships between UCSF faculty and community-based healthcare organizations. Helping these partnerships flourish is extremely rewarding.
It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:
From the very start of my career, CAFP has been an important resource and touchstone. First, it has provided a reliable source of continuing medical education and I have enjoyed contributing to that mission by working on various education programs supported by CAFP over the years. Second, it has given me a great opportunity to make connections with family doctors locally, across the state, and across the country. Finally, within AAFP, the CAFP has been a consistently responsive progressive voice for universal healthcare and healthcare policies that support a strong and diverse family medicine workforce that is able and willing to care for the medical needs of every community. I have seen firsthand that active involvement in CAFP can make a difference in the policies of AAFP and in the health care of patients in our communities. I encourage anyone who cares deeply about the future of family medicine and the issue of ensuring universal access to high quality and affordable primary care to get involved!
Thinking back, what have you found most rewarding about your career in family medicine?
One of the things I appreciate most about family medicine is the variety of everyday experiences and the opportunity to make contributions on so many levels – to patients, communities, and public health. Of course, as many of you know, I met my wife, Yeva Johnson, when we were both interns. As anyone who knows us can attest, to say that our life together and raising our two sons has been an adventure, would be an understatement! While every day can have its challenges, I am grateful for a life and career that coincides with deeply held personal values and that brings joy and satisfaction on so many levels.
Each month, CAFP highlights one outstanding California family physician member who lends their voice, time, talent and resources to strengthen the specialty of family medicine and his or her community. The Member of the Month interviews are conducted by CAFP staff. If you choose to share this article, feel free, but give appropriate source and author information. If you would like to share your story or know a family physician colleague who deserves to be recognized for his or her impact or leadership, contact us at (415) 345-8667 or email.