Shaping Physicians: Compassion and Social Awareness

by Dr. Keith Knepp, UnityPoint Health – Peoria , UnityPoint Health – Peoria

With a new academic year nearly upon us, I’ve been reflecting on my journey as a student. Healthcare is filled with students—regardless of seniority or expertise, we’re always learning and evolving. I first joined UnityPoint Health with my residency, and later, faculty position in the Family Medicine Residency program. Today I’m grateful to serve and learn each day as president of our UnityPoint Health – Peoria hospitals and our physician group.

One thing I’ve learned in my years of practice and leadership is the loyalty both patients and their care teams have for each other. It’s all about people—a tradition deeply rooted in our organization. We hold each other accountable through our values, and we ensure we lead by example, implementing these practices into the next generation of physicians.

It Starts With Recruitment
The Family Medicine Residency Program is almost 50 years old—one of the oldest residency partnerships with the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria. It provides a tremendous opportunity for us to teach our residents hands-on medical expertise and the value of patient-centered care.

Our commitment to shape compassionate, knowledgeable and dedicated physicians starts with resident recruitment. On average, about 1,500 applications are received for 10 available spots every year. Our Family Medicine Residency program is led by a group of physician faculty members with a wealth of experience. Each brings their own special expertise, but they are united by their passion to instill a hunger for excellence in our residents’ hearts.

Our faculty members have developed a unique and innovative resident interview process. Every interviewee must pass a series of mini-interviews curated to include ethical, compassion-oriented and scientific elements, so empathic and humble learners stand out from the crowd. This is a rare practice in the U.S. Our success rate in finding residents committed to people-centered care has resulted in our program director, Dr. Jeffrey Leman, being invited to present the subject at the national level. He’s currently in the process of publishing an academic article to share our experience with other institutions.

Research and Social Topics
Our program challenges residents through practice experience, research and social awareness, and residents must participate in a three-year research project of their choice. We celebrate Research Day every year with graduating residents sharing their research findings with university personnel, their peers, a panel of judges, and our Family Medicine Residency team. This year, topics included educating patients on rehospitalization, antibiotic use, inpatient rounding, treatment for feeding dysfunction in breastfed newborns, and the winning project: appropriate use of brain imaging in diagnostic evaluations.

The mandatory research projects and Research Day are supervised by residency program physician and faculty member, Dr. Rahmat Na’Allah. Dr. Na’Allah is also leading the majority of ongoing research and awareness projects in the Family Medicine Residency Clinic. These are highly tuned into social topics. Because the residency clinic mostly cares for an otherwise underserved population, it’s very important for physicians and those in training to be aware of social disparities in healthcare. It’s the perfect learning opportunity for residents to realize early in their careers that their patient panel will be highly diverse with needs that go beyond strictly medical issues.

To provide respectful and high-quality care, it’s necessary for physicians to advocate and educate themselves in the challenges facing many in our community. These social projects cover a wide range of topics, from food security in Peoria to chronic pain in the elderly and a large number of women’s health projects.

It’s crucial for physicians to be educated in a patient’s health history, but it’s equally important that they are aware of the patient’s social background. Is a patient unable to follow the advised treatment plan due to lack of resources? Can a patient refuse an exam or treatment due to a cultural or religious belief? Is there another option available for them? These are the questions we want our physicians to ask.

A good physician is one who treats their patient’s illness, but a great physician is one who cares for the whole person. I’m proud of the great work and passion displayed by our faculty, residents and staff as we collectively work to help realize a healthy future for everyone in our community. iBi

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