Family physicians are the Rodney Dangerfields of the medical profession: They don't get quite as much respect as many of their more-specialized colleagues.

Family physicians are the Rodney Dangerfields of the medical profession: They don't get quite as much respect as many of their more-specialized colleagues.

They also don't get paid as well.

The Clintonville-based Ohio Academy of Family Physicians exists, and has since 1948, to try to rectify both of those situations, as well as to encourage medical students to become family practitioners.

Dr. Sarah L. Sams of Hilliard took over last month as president of the statewide professional association, which has about 4,200 members.

Sams, who is currently medical director and on the faculty of the residency program at Grant Family Medicine in Grove City, is a family physician who didn't set out to be a doctor. The native of Iowa, who grew up on the farm where her parents still live, said that she was initially thinking of becoming a veterinarian when she enrolled at Iowa State University.

Then Sams decided she would rather treat patients who could talk, or eventually would be able to do so. She got accepted into medical school at Ohio State University, graduating in 1991.

Her goal was to become an obstetrician and she held fast to that ideal until her third year, when she was assigned to work with a rural physician in Logan. She went along with him on actual house calls and wound up assisting on more surgeries than during her surgical rotation.

It was all something of an eye-opener, according to Sams.

"I just loved the fact he knew his patients inside-out, upside-down," she said.

After subsequently meeting a Worthington doctor who combined family practice with obstetrics, the deal was sealed for Sarah Sams.

"I could still deliver babies, but then I didn't have to give them up," she said.

In fact, Sams said that some of the first babies she helped bring into the world are still her patients as 19-year-olds.

This is pretty much in keeping with what the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians, with offices at 4075 N. High St., says being a family practitioner is all about.

"The scope of family medicine encompasses all ages, both sexes and every disease entity," the academy's website states. "Family physicians provide comprehensive, continuing care to all members of the family."

"We are the bottom line for a lot of our patients," Sams said.

Many of those who see family practitioners, the academy president said, want to see their personal doctor for all their needs, and resist being sent to specialists.

Sams became a member of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians board of directors in 1999 as a district representative. She was urged to do so by Dr. Linda Stone, who was the second female president of the academy. When skyrocketing malpractice rates made it impossible for Sams to continuing doing obstetrics work along with being a family physician nine years ago, she said that she became even more involved, testifying before legislators on tort reform and speaking before various groups on the topic.

That resulted, Sams said, in a desire for even more involvement in the academy and its advocacy work, not only on behalf of family physicians but also for patients and health care in general.

Many students enter medical school wanting to become family doctors, Sams pointed out. By the time they finish, however, their mounting student loans and the money that can be made by specializing draws many away.

The academy, by striving to foster in summer interns the "love of family medicine" along with advocating for better reimbursement for doctors in the field and help with student loan repayments, is hoping more of those idealistic students can continue with their dream, Sams said.

"We also really involve our students and residents in academy activities," she said.