Brian Freeman developed an interest in science and math as a teen. While attending a magnet school with an engineering specialty, he learned how biomedical engineering methods and products help fight diseases, and decided to pursue a career in medicine. At the University of Virginia, he studied biomedical engineering with the intent to become a Nephrologist – a medical specialty that studies kidney function and treatment – but a trip to East Africa set him on a different medical career path.
“I was fortunate to go to Tanzania as a third year undergraduate with a business class and saw that the majority of disease burden there was social, cultural, and economic – not related to genetic makeup. I then recognized the same in the U.S. and it set me a on a path to learn more about public health and pursue primary care.”
Freeman attended the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and during his last year he heard about the Students to Service Loan Repayment Program. His wife encouraged him to apply thinking he would like primary care in an underserved setting. “I thought it was a unique opportunity to become part of a structured program that ensures physicians can work in an underserved area early in their careers while obtaining loan repayment,” he said.
Now a resident in the VCU-Fairfax Family Medicine Residency program in the Washington D.C. area, Freeman has been acclimating to life as “the doctor now” and becoming more comfortable practicing medicine. He’s already learned he’s more apt to community-oriented medicine and less interested in a primarily hospital-based residency. Freeman said residency can be tough and chaotic at times, but his fellow residents, family and patients help him to persevere.
Freeman’s patients remind him of why his health care delivery is so important. While a new intern, he once treated an extremely sick patient with liver failure who recognized a bit of anxiety within Freeman. The patient sat up and looked Freeman in the eye and said, “I’m proud of you. I know it’s difficult now and sometimes you want to give up, but don’t give up. We need more doctors like you.” During his second year as a resident, he had a patient who was re-admitted for care four times in a month for a kidney infection. Freeman didn’t think it seemed right that the patient’s health never improved despite receiving the right antibiotics and insisted his superiors arrange a kidney biopsy. As a result, it was discovered that the patient had a rapidly progressive autoimmune condition attacking her kidneys. The patient told him that he was the only one who understood her.
Freeman believes 95 percent of being a doctor is communication. He said it’s amazing to see a doctor and patient both speaking English, but the patient doesn’t understand one word the doctor says. “Part of being a doctor is to meet the patient where he or she is, and that means showing humility and patience to explain things in ways the patient can understand without medical jargon.” He said this is especially key in underserved communities, in particular urban areas where generational mistrust of authority figures and healthcare providers can destroy good intentions.
When Freeman arrives to his National Health Service Corps site, he hopes to show his patients that they can improve their own health no matter the circumstances. “I want to be a doctor that patients can trust and know I will give them the best advice I can. I want to be their health coach that guides them through any challenge that may arise.”