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Profile of a Service-Minded Physician: Amy Kerfoot, MD

September 10, 2018

Dr. Amy Kerfoot, an occupational medicine physician at Northwest Permanente, was recently named vice speaker of the Oregon Medical Association (OMA). Dr. Kerfoot is also a member of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s Opioid Epidemic Task Force.

Please note: Dr. Kerfoot will be a panelist at the OMA’s annual meeting, on September 29, 2018, in Portland; click here for registration information, and find more information about the conference here. (NWP’s Dr. Jennifer Bard will serve on a panel at the event as well.)

Below Dr. Kerfoot shares her journey in becoming a physician, how she views public service, and why she joined Kaiser Permanente:

As an Northwest Permanente (NWP) occupational medicine physician, I primarily treat work-related injuries and illnesses. I’m an OMA member through NWP’s group membership, and I serve on the board of trustees and the OMA policy committee. Recently, I was nominated to serve as the vice speaker for the coming year. The OMA unites and represents physicians in matters of legislation, advocacy, and education. The vice speaker is a member of the executive committee, which meets monthly and oversees the activities of the association’s reference committee and codifies policy for consideration by the Board of Trustees. The vice speaker, together with the speaker, conducts resolution proceedings at trustee meetings, as well as membership proceedings at the OMA annual meeting.

Amy Kerfoot, MD (right), and fellow medical student Eileen (Delaney) Leahy, MD, a few years back on Match Day. Today a NWP occupational medicine physician, Dr. Kerfoot is the newly elected vice president of the Oregon Medical Association.

Leadership in medicine is new to me, but the concept of service is not. I’m a native Oregonian, from Redmond, and the first physician in my family. My parents, a police officer and a high school teacher, have always modeled professional and community involvement. They instilled in me the value of showing up and contributing time and energy. My father served as a volunteer firefighter for the city of Redmond for more than 20 years in addition to his law-enforcement career. I remember being seven years old when he was studying for an emergency medical technician (EMT) exam. I sat in his lap as he showed me pictures in Gray’s Anatomy and explained the circulatory system to me. That moment only served to pique my curiosity and marvel at the intricacy of the human body.

Years later, as a high-school senior, I was fortunate to take an advanced biology class taught by one of our local family medicine physicians. Dr. Steve Cross gave two afternoons a week out of his private practice to provide 14 small-town high-school seniors with an in-depth course of medical physiology. It rivaled what I later took as an undergraduate at Stanford in my human biology classes. Seven of the 14 students in that high-school class became physicians, which is a strong testament to the power of mentoring.

Still, I took a meandering path into medicine. I worked full-time in California for seven years in the biotechnology industry while racing Ironman distance triathlons as a “hobby.” I eventually made my way back to Oregon, where I completed a master’s degree in biomedical informatics at Oregon Health & Science University in 2009. After that, I knew I really did want to be a doctor, so I started medical school in Albany, New York, at the age of 31, and graduated in 2013. I made my way home to compete my residency. I pursued training in preventive medicine and public health, as it represented a unique opportunity to combine clinical medicine with the pursuit of health at the population level.

During residency, I became very involved in regional efforts to address the opioid epidemic, through clinical practice guidelines and through coordinated policy efforts to expand access to medication-assisted treatment. My interest revolved around the complex development of substance-use disorders (physical conditions, behavioral health, social determinants) and their vast reaches across all levels of society. These disorders do not discriminate, and like most people, I watched helplessly as substance abuse harmed people I cared about. Doing clinical work in the substance-use treatment world gave me real-world understanding of the devastation the epidemic has wrought, and it served as a perfect bridge between my public health and my clinical training.

Leadership roles in the county and state medical societies have created further opportunity for me to contribute at the state level. I was honored to be invited to join Governor Kate Brown’s opioid epidemic task force, which continues the work it started in 2017.

As I wrapped up my residency training and looked at employment options, multiple factors converged to make Kaiser Permanante the obvious choice. My public health training compelled me to work in a system where high-quality care with an emphasis on primary prevention was widely available at a nominal cost. I wanted my work to be focused on doing the right thing for the patient, not the bottom line. The KP mission and its delivery model most closely met that ideal. Further, the mentoring and teaching focus drew me in. As a resident, I identified occupational medicine as the opportunity to do a combination of clinical and population-level work within the scope of my training. Much of the early research on the opioid epidemic came out of the worker’s compensation data sets. Public health science is at the core of caring for injured or ill workers in preventing disability.

As I sought some additional experience with the work itself, I was eventually connected with Dr. Hannah Edwards, in the Beaverton Occupational Health Department. She drew on her background in academic occupational medicine to put together a didactic curriculum and longitudinal rotation for me during my last year of residency. It was a natural progression to apply for an open position at KP when a longtime department member retired in the fall of 2016. I am continually grateful to Dr. Edwards for making the time to be a mentor and ultimately help me find my way into my current position.

These roles outside of clinical practice have given me valuable perspective. They remind me how fortunate I am to work in an organization that offers high-quality, affordable, evidence-based care in a collegial environment. They raise awareness of the complex issues facing the practice of medicine and place me shoulder to shoulder with principled physician leaders throughout the state. Northwest Permanente is an active participant in critical discussions on the future of health-care delivery in our region, and I’m proud to help contribute to that work.

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