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From birth to death: Building connections for future primary care providers

Kim Kovalick, DO, loves her work as a family medicine practitioner — especially the way she gets to practice it in a Geisinger clinic. Geisinger’s focus on team-based primary care gives her more time with patients, building the longlasting and trusting relationships that make her calling a joy. Now, as assistant dean of primary care and assistant professor of family medicine in Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s Department of Medical Education, Dr. Kovalick can share that passion as she shapes future primary care physicians.

She is leading the effort to create a network of mentors for Geisinger Commonwealth students in the school’s growing Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program. In addition to herself, she now has mentors to pair one-on-one with incoming scholars. The mentors will form a close bond with their students and act as advisors as the students progress in their education. “The mentor role is a guidance role,” Dr. Kovalick said. “The mentor will be there to talk to students about their aspirations and to guide them on their journey to becoming a primary care physician.”

In addition to acting as a mentor, Dr. Kovalick is also a preceptor, teaching third-year students in her clinic in Kingston. As a teacher, she hopes her students will appreciate the breadth of care a primary care physician provides. “We see everyone, from birth to elderly,” she said. “No other specialty is like that. Primary care physicians really earn the trust of their patients. They come to us about everything — even when they get advice from another provider, they want to talk to us about it.”

Helping her students to begin to build that trust is one of the things Dr. Kovalick enjoys most as a teacher. “I try to teach students to talk to the patient the way they would want a doctor to talk to their family member: with kindness and respect. It helps that our patients have been very positive about helping students to learn. It’s a joy to see them begin to build that confidence to have the more difficult conversations.”

These intimate human connections make Dr. Kovalick’s role as both doctor and teacher deeply satisfying. When the newest Abigail Geisinger Scholars begin their studies this fall, Dr. Kovalick hopes all mentors convey that message. “Primary care is about caring for the whole person,” she said. “You need to understand everything about a patient — medical, social, family life. It really is the most challenging specialty, but it is also the most rewarding.”

Kim Kovalick

Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program

Geisinger wants its smart, hardworking medical students to be free to practice medicine the way every future doctor imagines it — through meaningful, long-term relationships with people who become more like family. And we all want our family members to stay healthy and strong so they can live their best lives, unburdened by disease. That’s why we created the Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program.

Here’s how it works:

  • Selected students graduate without tuition debt and receive a $2,000 per month stipend.
  • Upon completion of residency training, program participants become Geisinger-employed physicians. Specialties include family medicine, internal medicine, medicine-pediatrics and psychiatry.
  • 1 year of service equals 1 year of support, with a 2-year minimum.