Like most family doctors, Dr. Cherie Salisbury of Novant Health Primary Care NoDa in Charlotte might diagnose a patient with strep throat, another with arthritis and a third with diabetes – all before lunchtime.

Internists, family medicine doctors, general practitioners, GPs – whatever you call your primary care provider, when it comes to our health, they’re our first line of defense. Many of us see the same primary care doctor for decades.

They’re the utility players, the Swiss Army knives of the medical field. We see them for physicals each year. We see them for acne, headaches, joint pain and weight management. But we show up with worrisome issues and questions, as well. They’re often our portal into specialty care like cardiology, neurology and oncology.

Dr. Cherie Salisbury

“If I can treat it, I will,” Salisbury said. “If I can’t, I’ll make a referral to a specialist. But I’ll do as much as I can on my own.”

She recently removed a skin lesion from a patient reluctant to go to a dermatologist. (If you’re not an established patient, it can be difficult to get a timely appointment with one.) “Once the biopsy is back, I’ll reach the same diagnosis a dermatologist would,” she said. “And if I can save a patient from making an appointment with another doctor, I’m happy to.”

Good health starts with a visit to a primary care physician.

Schedule an appointment

Jacks — and Jills — of all trades

Salisbury is particularly passionate about women’s healthcare. “It's important to me to see women being offered options and guidance for their health that allow them to feel empowered to make good decisions for themselves,” she said.

For some patients, she fills the role of an OB-GYN. She’ll do Pap tests at annual physicals, and she prescribes birth control. She can also diagnose and treat issues related to patients’ menstrual periods.

She can also do injections for joint pain in her office for patients who have been injured or have arthritis – saving them a visit to an orthopedic specialist.

But one of the biggest needs she sees among patients these days is for mental health care. “I’m big on holistic care and treating patients’ minds, bodies and spirits,” Salisbury said. “If a patient has mild anxiety or depression, that’s something I feel comfortable treating. When there’s something outside my comfort level, I’ll make a referral to a psychiatrist.”

Patients don’t always want a referral. Most would prefer talking to – and being treated by – someone they’re already at ease with.

“Patients just feel more comfortable with a person they know and trust,” she said. “I have patients tell me they’d rather talk to me about a particular issue than a doctor they’ve never met before. That’s especially true when we’re talking about depression and other mental health concerns. I understand that, in many cases, it was hard enough for a patient to open up to me. It would only add to their anxiety to have to tell their story again to another doctor.”

“If I can help, I will,” she added. “But I’ll always admit when something is outside my realm. I’ve told a patient: ‘You don’t want me doing a hernia repair on you.’”

Top scores for safety in NC