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A chat with the state Family Doctor of the Year

It was a pleasure talking with Dr. Andrew Symons, a University of Buffalo professor who practices in Tonawanda and lives in Williamsville, for tomorrow’s In the Field feature that will be published in WNY Refresh.

I could tell by his interesting background and passion for his work – we talked by phone for more than an hour – he is very deserving of the honor, which he will receive Saturday in Troy.

Here’s a bit more of what he told me:

"My youngest patient I haven't met yet because I do prenatal care. My oldest patient led a charmed life and had a charmed passing, in his bed, in his sleep, in his own home at the age of 102."

Here’s more of what he said about encouraging students to be family doctors:

"The ones that have a passion for it, an inkling for it, I have them come meet other family physicians. We have some funding to support student interests. We try to recruit family doctors who enjoy what they’re doing, and we encourage them to bring students into their practice. And when I have a student in my office, I always tell them, regardless of what kind of physician they’re going to be, I want them to be a good physician and enjoy what they’re doing.

"I think it’s important for them to understand what it’s like to come to a physician who’s your family doctor, what it’s like to know patients over time, what it’s like when I walk into a room, and I look on the counter and there’s that pomegranate candy that my patient whose my father’s age leaves on the counter. ... when I see the patient, my patient, whose husband passed away two weeks ago and we hug each other and there are tears and understanding what the meaning of that relationship is. I can go on and on. Understanding that I don’t have to start from scratch with a patient that I’ve known for five years. This is a marathon, and we’re in it together for the long haul.

"I try to remind students, 'You have to remember what you’re going into medicine for. If it’s to drive three Lexuses and you don’t think you can do it on family medicine salary, then do something else. If you really have a passion for surgery, be a surgeon and be a good one, but understand what it’s like to be a family doctor.’

"I also make them understand I lead a fine lifestyle and they can be an economic success and they don’t have to worry about it.

"Some of my best students I’ve written letters of recommendation for have not gone into family medicine and I’m fine with that. One of my best students is a radiologist, but when he was in my office, he was engaged with the patients, he was engaged with the staff. He asked questions. And I knew that when I picked up the phone and called a radiologist and needed to describe to that radiologist what my patient was feeling, and perhaps the CT scan could help explain it, I would hope that it would be that student because he does sense what it’s like to be that doctor, because he spent a month in my office."

Read more about Dr. Symons Saturday in Refresh.

– Refresh Editor Scott Scanlon

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