February 2021 Get to Know Newsletter

Dr. Puffer’s Perspective

A profile piece on one of Symposia Medicus’ longest serving faculty.

Symposia Medicus’ venerated faculty member, Dr. James C. Puffer, has worn many hats. He has been a family medicine physician, American Board of Family Medicine president, Head Team Physician for the US Olympic Team, and a Symposia Medicus speaker for over 40 years. In this profile piece, Dr. Puffer shares his thoughts and experiences regarding healthcare, travel, and continuing towards success and life balance.

James Puffer knows a thing or two about continuity. He has to—Dr. Puffer has been a practicing family medicine physician for 45 years and that means he has been part of his patients’ lives for a long time.

“Family medicine provides the opportunity to provide comprehensive care to patients of all ages over their lifetimes,” said Puffer. “I find it particularly rewarding to develop meaningful relationships with patients while caring for them over time.”

Dr. James C. Puffer is a Professor Emeritus of Clinical Family Medicine on recall status in the Division of Sports Medicine within the Department of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

As well as being a practicing family and sports medicine physician, Dr. Puffer has also been able to take his expertise on the road. He has served as a team physician for the United States Olympic Teams, traveling and taking care of the Olympic athletes while they participated in the Games.

In 1984, Dr. Puffer served as a team physician at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) and in 1988, he served as Head Team Physician for the US Summer Olympic Team while they competed in Seoul, South Korea. “Unlike the longitudinal care that I provided to athletes at UCLA, the care provided to Olympic athletes is compressed into the three weeks of the Olympic Games,” recalls Puffer. “You are principally focused on providing care that will help these athletes maximize their performance at the Games.”

From January 2003 to December 2019, Dr. Puffer served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM).

Dr. Puffer is also an enduring speaker for Symposia Medicus, dating back to the organization’s first-ever conference on primary care in Acapulco, Mexico. He worked with Dr. Jack Rodnick, the conference chairperson, and a young Cheryl Abraham-Helman, Symposia Medicus’ founder.

Dr. Puffer would go on to work with Ms. Abraham-Helman and Symposia Medicus for many years after that first conference in Acapulco. “We would go on to develop a wonderful series of primary care meetings that continued 40 years later,” said Puffer.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, holding live, in-person conferences has been impossible and many have turned to online courses. This may be the necessary alternative for now, but Dr. Puffer is not certain the future of continuing education conferences is online. “While some CME providers have explored the use of live online courses, I am not certain that they have been entirely embraced by clinicians,” said Puffer. “While useful in sharing information, [online continuing education conferences] have not been able to replace the atmosphere, nor the learning environment of an in-person meeting.”

Dr. Puffer (second from left) with other faculty at Symposia Medicus conference, 29th Annual Fall Conference on Hot Topics in Primary Care held on Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, from October 31-November 3, 2018. Photo credit: Angie Dimitri.

Nevertheless, technology has played a tremendous role in changing healthcare practices. “While providing healthcare during the pandemic has been incredibly stressful,” continued Puffer, “it has provided the opportunity to explore novel ways in delivering care to patients. A number of these innovations are here to stay, most notably telehealth.”

“We have moved to a greater number of telehealth visits as a result of the pandemic,” said Puffer, “and since I am now primarily caring for intercollegiate athletes, we have developed an extensive testing protocol to minimize exposure risk during practice and competition. Many of the changes that we have made to the training and competition environments will remain in place until the [COVID-19] vaccine becomes more available and athletes become eligible to receive it, which will probably not occur until summer at the earliest.”

Along with telehealth, Dr. Puffer has noted some other trends in the medical industry that are linked to remote technology. “We will see an exponential increase in the development of wearable technology that will provide practicing clinicians with real-time information about their patients,” Puffer expects. “This will include everything from blood sugar to heart rate and rhythm.”

Dr. Puffer references John Wooden when asked how he defines success:

Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

John Wooden

While working towards success is dependent on doing one’s best, Dr. Puffer acknowledges that it is also vital to manage a life balance. “Creating dedicated time for family, exercise, and avocations outside of medicine is critically important to a [healthcare professional’s] well-being,” Dr. Puffer prescribed. “I protect time to enjoy these aspects of life away from medicine.”

Sarah Reagan is a Conference Planner for Symposia Medicus. She lives in Concord, California.