Never Stop Learning: Physician’s Pursuit to Always Be Better
Mark Anderson, MD
Family Physician, MPH Population and Health Sciences
December 20, 2019, MPH, Students, Aging, Health Care, Health Care Management, Leadership, Nutrition, Practice, Professional Development
“If you want to stay pertinent, you're going to have to evolve professionally.” That’s the motto of family physician Mark Anderson. He has been practicing medicine for almost 30 years and believes there is always something more to learn, and always something you can be doing to better serve your patients. That’s why the seasoned practitioner chose to join the first cohort of the online MPH program in Population and Health Sciences.
Over the past three decades, Mark built a comprehensive and successful primary care practice serving people in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. He’s also an author, and hosts a weekly podcast on health and anti-aging related issues. He attributes his success to being open to the rapid changes in the health field: “It's a whole new world out there. If doctors aren't keeping up with it, they're going to turn into dinosaurs really fast. Being proactive - that’s what’s going to enable us to take care of better care of patients.”
Mark in the studio, recording for the Stay Young podcast. | Photo courtesy of Mark Anderson
As a professional, he’s recognized the value of gaining skills in population health. “Population health is where the future is going. Coming from a primary care standpoint, we’re already seeing the importance of working at a population level. At my practice, we're getting ready for the next 20 years of health advancements by trying to integrate new lessons that apply to population-based medicine.”
“As I move forward in the program, I can think about ‘How can I learn to use those tools? and how can I implement them right now today, and make a difference?’” After just one semester of coursework, he says he’s already been able to integrate learnings into real change for patients in his practice. Reflecting on his Social Determinants of Health course, he says he has become more attuned to discussing health disparities: “even something like looking at transportation modes for patients - there are medical record codes for ‘patient has transportation issues’, or ‘patient has financial issues’, so now we're going to change our protocol at the practice to start incorporating those codes into the office visit so that maybe we can get these types of things - these barriers to health - covered for them eventually.”
Mark plans to move forward with the program’s Nutrition specialization. He says he’s already working on fine-tuning a project he started during his first term nutrition course so that he can implement it with his current patients. “The project is on using fasting diets or time-limited feedings for diabetic management that measures metrics, and now we’ll be able to see how that works for our patients.”
Mark was hoping these would be the outcomes from his MPH program, and was ready to put in the work for it from the beginning. “I knew I couldn’t be in the classroom given my practice -- it just wouldn’t work. I was accepted by a few other programs, but studying population health was my number one pick. The University of Michigan offered that, and it wasn’t just an ‘executive’ degree, it’s a real degree and I’m really learning and gaining from it.”
Mark at work at his practice. | Photo courtesy of Mark Anderson.
Returning to earn his master’s in public health has been somewhat of an adjustment for the longtime professional, “My grown kids have teased me, ‘Oh Dad, they’re going to use proctor U and all of these other things and I didn’t know what the heck they were at first.” He talks about being in Tel Aviv for his son’s wedding during the first week of class and dealing with getting assignments in with the time difference. He says though that his family has really been supportive of his new educational endeavor, particularly his wife - a Michigan Law alumna - who had already indoctrinated him into being a faithful Wolverine. Mark insists, “it hasn't really been too difficult to find those extra hours in my day to do classwork that were just being used for other things.”
He says he’s been amazed by the ability of his peers, most who are earlier in their careers, who’ve managed to juggle a lot more life obstacles. “You do get an appreciation for some of the other students. We’ve got people serving in the military. There's one person who is overseas in Africa doing mission work, I met a couple of medical students, and one who had her baby in the middle of the term! I’m just so impressed with what my classmates are doing on so many different levels. It really is encouraging.
In this first term, coming back to earn his MPH has been enjoyable for Mark in large part because of the faculty. “I've been duly impressed with every faculty member I’ve had. This was new to them, you know? Considering how to produce the courses and be on camera? You can tell they really went into it with an open mind. It had to be a challenge to take a semester-long course and cram it into six weeks making sure we get what we’ll need. Then, put it in little bits that are digestible. They've all done a fantastic job of that.”
Just as the faculty have challenged themselves to teach in new ways, Mark is challenging himself to continue learning. The advice he gives to young doctors reflects that: “I would challenge anybody with the question, 'What did you read last night?' I don't care if you read the sports page, but you need to be reading and learning even if it's just reading to stimulate your thoughts. Let's get new information, digest it, and stimulate the thought process. Then think of 'How do you incorporate some of these new ideas into what you're doing?’ I think everyone should be doing that at any age, whether it's later in careers or still early on.”
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