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Collections: Oral Histories

Fitzhugh Mullan Primary Care Physicians Interview Collection

This collection consists of 63 oral histories of primary care physicians in America and Britain. They were conducted in the 1990s by then United States Public Health Service physician and historian Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, as part of research for his book, Big Doctoring in America: Profiles in Primary Care. Mullan undertook the project to document the lives and work of individuals who have contributed to the interdisciplinary realm of primary health care delivery. He selected his subjects from his network of contacts, attempting to achieve geographic, gender, ethnic, and disciplinary balance. Mullan’s contacts provided suggestions for potential interviewees in each area of the country he visited. He then chose the interviewees from this list.

Mullan's purpose was to document the dedication of primary care clinicians—physicians, nurse practitioners, or physician's assistants—to advance the well-being of their patients by trying to "treat" the systems that affect them (community, society, economic, political), efforts which Mullan calls "big doctoring." These are mostly not heart-warming stories about old-time doctors and quirky patients. Instead, the focus is on the lives of generalist practitioners and the environment in which they practice: rural medicine, urban ghettos, pediatric public health, managed care, teaching, and health care efforts aimed at particularly vulnerable populations. Few of the clinicians practice full-time; most also do administrative work.

Almost all the interviewees have strong opinions about the state of health care and clinical practice in the United States and are trying to do something about it. The interviews focus on two questions: Of what value is progress in science and medicine if so many are left behind? And how can we make things better?