Dr. Critt Aardema was 8 years old when his mother was diagnosed with leukemia. After two years of cancer treatments and family visits to the hospital, she recovered. At the same time, her young son discovered an “enchantment” with medicine and its practitioners.
Now, as Tanner Clinic’s newest family practice physician, Dr. Aardema brings an appreciation for doctor-patient relationships — bonds that come only with time and trust.
“Family practice is a broad spectrum — it’s taking care of a family from birth to, well, death,” he says.
“And not only just physical ailments, but emotional, mental and social ailments as well.”
So many possibilities. And that, he says, was what snagged him.
He’s proud to be a generalist in a world that seems to more and more value specialists. This trend, experts worry, will spark a shortage of family-practice physicians. Indeed, the number of U.S. medical school students going into primary care has dropped more than 50 percent since 1997, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Experts say it’s partially the money factor — specialists can earn more than family practitioners. And many medical residents don’t want to take on the scope of health know-how a generalist needs.
But there’s also the feeling that dealing with scrapes, chicken pox and sore throats just isn’t cool.
That was something Dr. Aardema came up against even in medical school. “There’s actually a lot of pressure not to go into family medicine,” he said. “People would say, ‘Just family medicine?’”
A generalist among specialists
There are many experienced, compassionate specialists at Tanner Clinic — in fact, the medical facility boasts more than 30 specialized areas of health care. But as a generalist, says Dr. Aardema, he’s able to “treat a patient holistically.”
“What makes family medicine unique,” he said, “is when I see patients suffering from, say, depression or anxiety, because I know them at such depth I can take into consideration what’s going on with their work, with their children. I’m able to treat them appropriately because I have a broad understanding of the patient.”
Dr. Aardema did, however, take some detours before he settled on the family practice path. In high school, he continued his goal of being a physician. But as a young college student, he said, “I started to think, ‘It’s so much time and debt to go into medicine.’ ”
He looked around for other careers — engineering? education? He even entered Weber State University’s School of Business. All it took was a single business internship, and “I realized this wasn’t for me,” he said. “Medicine was what I always wanted to do, even though I was trying to convince myself I didn’t.”
Memories of childhood doctor
With support from his wife, Brittany, and his young family, he returned to his dream of being a doctor. “I felt that medicine is what I need to do, it’s what I love to do,” he said.
Plus, he said, “I realized that your job is 70 percent of your life and whether you love it or hate it will affect the other 30 percent of your life.”
When he entered the University of Utah School of Medicine, he remembered his appreciation for his own childhood family doctor. His study of other areas of medicine also nudged him toward family practice.
“As I did my rotations, I found I enjoyed surgery, I enjoyed OB-GYN, pediatrics, adult medicine. Then I realized that in family medicine, I got to do a little of all of that, while developing these deep, long-lasting relationships.”