Doctor at Children’s Medical Group in Decatur is a former CMG patientAshley Bufe, a pediatric doctor at the Children’s Medical Group in Decatur, is a former CMG patient. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
For some children and families, doctor visits aren’t anything special. But for Ashley Bufe, a pediatric doctor at the Children’s Medical Group in Decatur, her childhood trips to the pediatrician are exactly why she went into medicine.
Bufe, an Atlanta resident and a native of Tucker, started working with CMG in January 2017. Her first experience with CMG, though, was long before then – when she was born.
“I was actually a patient there all the way from birth,” Bufe said. “I was with CMG the whole time.”
The Children’s Medical Group, which was founded in 1947, provides pediatric care to children around Atlanta. They have offices in Northeast Atlanta, Johns Creek and Decatur, where Bufe works.
One prominent memory from Bufe’s time at CMG took place when she was four. Bufe said she had a new onset of sudden, acute bruising that was very severe, so her mother took her to see Dr. Forest Jones at Children’s Medical Group.
Jones immediately sent Bufe over to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Egleston Hospital in order to check for leukemia, a possibility that especially terrified Bufe and her mother because Bufe’s uncle had died of the disease. Fortunately, Bufe tested negative, but the experience has stuck with her and her mother.
“My mom always remembers [Jones] because he helped us with that scary moment,” she said. “It was always moments like that – the excellent care and speed and good, accurate diagnoses that they had provided that stood out to us.”
Bufe remained a patient with CMG until she was 21, when she graduated from pediatric care. Beyond her own experience, Bufe also recalls that the Children’s Medical Group helped her brother with a heart condition, too.
When high school eventually rolled around and Bufe began to think about her career, she took an aptitude test that recommended physical therapy. That suggestion sparked an interest in medicine, and Bufe found more inspiration in CMG.
“I kind of looked around at the people I was seeing at CMG and thought that I really enjoyed what they do here,” she said. “I knew I wanted to pursue the same sort of lifelong learning and helping others that I saw there, and I really liked working with children, which pushed me toward pediatrics.”
Bufe attended the University of Georgia, where she pursued her pre-medical undergraduate degree. One summer, CMG hired her to do hearing and vision screenings for children.
At that point, Bufe was planning on going to medical school but had been having doubts, she said. So, she met with Dr. Louis Hempel, a doctor at CMG’s Johns Creek branch, for advice.
“I remember [Bufe] having conversations with me and my partner Dr. Christine Furr about whether or not she should go to school to become a physician assistant or pursue her dreams of going to medical school,” Hempel said. “To this day I have always been very fulfilled by my own decision to go to medical school, and I helped encourage Ashley to pursue her ultimate dream as well.”
According to Hempel, Bufe isn’t the first CMG patient to return to the practice as a doctor. Dr. Norman “Chip” Harbaugh and Dr. Thomas Calk, CMG’s most senior partner, were also patients in their youth.
Like Bufe, Hempel’s own daughter is pursuing medicine after debating going into physical therapy or becoming a physician assistant. Hempel thinks her pediatric experience at CMG may shape her career, too.
“I cannot help but wonder if she may someday become the fourth former CMG patient to become a CMG physician,” he said.
Deciding to follow the pediatric medical path, Bufe went on to get an MD at the Medical College of Georgia and completed her residency at Emory University. From there, she went into private practice for six years and eventually joined CMG.
“After that meeting [with Hempel], I thought, ‘yep, I’m going to go into this,’ and I really never looked back,” Bufe said.
Although the medical path can be mentally and physically intense and time consuming, Bufe loved the process of going through school and residency. Although she sometimes missed out on social events or fun nights out, Bufe said she “kept looking at the end of the path.”
Of course, being a doctor has many tough moments – long nights, difficult diagnoses and sometimes even patient deaths. Although she experiences fewer tragic losses than many emergency care doctors, the connection she forms with patients can make sad news more difficult to bear.
“You really get to know these families, and that makes the hard moments even harder sometimes,” Bufe said.
Still, “there are a lot – a whole lot – of great moments” in pediatric care. As many families’ primary care physician, Bufe performs a number of regular check-ups around this time as kids go back to school.
“This is when I really get to hear what the family has been up to and how the child is progressing both in their health and in their life,” Bufe said. “I get to talk to them about their lives and their accomplishments, and so I really get to interact deeply.”
A mother of two herself, Bufe understands how parents feel.
“Having children doesn’t change how I practice medicine necessarily because my skills and such are the same, but I’ve seen that my empathy has changed because I’ve lived through so many of these things,” she said. “So when parents come in with a 1-month-old baby who’s sick and won’t stop crying, I can understand. I’ve lived that. I get it. I’ve been there.”
Through her time at CMG, Bufe has aimed to give both good preventative care and good diagnostic care. To her, “there are two sides to the coin” in medicine, as she hopes to effectively prevent disease but also effectively treat and diagnose disease in the same way her doctors did when she was young.
Hempel is glad that Bufe was able to come back to CMG after being a patient herself and finding him as a mentor.
“It’s so wonderful now many years later to have her working for us in our Decatur office,” Hempel said.
Above all else, Bufe finds that her experience as a patient at CMG makes her want to give back and to serve as the same type of resource she found when she was there.
“I believe advocacy and being there for people is absolutely important, especially helping families in the community be able to advocate for their kids,” she said. “I want to be someone they can trust in the same way I trusted my doctors. I want to be the person that they can come to.”