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The 2011 AΩA Councilors Meeting

Left to right: University of Minnesota Councilor Charles Billington, MD; University of Indiana Councilor Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD; past Councilor Director representing the Medical University of South Carolina Gabe Virella, MD, PhD; AΩA Executive Director Richard L. Byyny, MD.


The September 2011 AΩA Councilors meeting took place in Chicago on September 22 and 23, and was attended by a record number of 42 councilors. The meeting identified and discussed a number of issues of importance to chapter councilors. An electronic survey was distributed to all councilors before the meeting, and the results were used to set the meeting program. It was co-chaired by Richard Gunderman, representing Alpha Chapter of Indiana, and Gabe Virella, representing Alpha Chapter of South Carolina. This article summarizes the role of the councilor and key discussion points of the meeting, drawing where appropriate on responses from the councilors survey.

All AΩA chapters have a chapter councilor appointed by the dean of the school of medicine. Chapter councilors serve as important role models and provide valuable leadership for their chapters, schools, and members. They work in partnership with the AΩA executive director and national office staff. Councilors supervise the election of chapter officers and organize and manage the nomination of new members each year according to the criteria set forth in the AΩA Constitution. They also coordinate and select proposals from medical students and faculty applying for national programs and awards. Most enjoy some administrative support from their school. Many chapters assess dues to support chapter activities and functions. In sum, AΩA chapter councilors are critical to the ongoing success of the society.

Membership Selection

The most intensely discussed issue at the meeting concerned the criteria and procedures for selection of new members. All chapters must follow the membership guidelines presented in the AΩA constitution, Article IV, which every councilor should probably review from time to time. Scholastic achievement should be the primary, but not the sole basis for nomination of a student. "Leadership capabilities, ethical standards, fairness in dealing with colleagues, demonstrated professionalism, potential for achievement in medicine, and a record of service to the school and community at large shall be criteria in addition to the academic record."

Article IV: MEMBERSHIP AND GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS
Section 1: General

The function and influence of the Society depend upon the wisdom with which members are elected. Candidates are selected as nominees for membership of a chapter as medical students, residents or fellows, faculty, and alumni/alumnae not currently members of that faculty of medicine. Individual chapters shall establish procedures to apply the national criteria for nomination of new members. All members of the chapter are eligible to vote for nominees at a meeting of members convened for that purpose or by mail. Selection as a nominee shall require a majority vote of those in attendance. Once nominated, election to membership in AΩA will occur when the nominee registers online and submits dues payment for the first year. This does not apply to those elected by the Board as honorary members.

No candidate shall be denied election because of race, color, creed, ethnic origin, age, gender, or any other characteristic prohibited by the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action laws of a state, province, territory, or nation.

Self-nomination will not be considered for any category of membership.

Section 2: Medical Student Memberships

A. Those candidates whose scholastic qualifications place them in the upper twenty-five percent of their class shall be considered as eligible for nomination for election. From that number, one-sixth of the total number of the class expected to graduate may be nominated for membership. In those medical schools that have no graded standings for students, the Dean or his/her designee can provide to the chapter Councilor the names of students that approximate in number the upper quartile of the class expected to graduate and who, by consensus, match the high criteria for nomination to membership (see section 2c).

B. Up to one-half of the quota for any class may be nominated for membership in the spring of their junior year. Each chapter, each year, may determine whether or not to nominate members from the junior class. Chapters may choose to nominate all or a portion of their quota of student members at any time during the senior year prior to graduation. Each chapter is encouraged to save one or two positions in each class of students for seniors to be nominated closer to graduation, in recognition of notable achievements during the final year of undergraduate medical education.

C. Criteria for nomination: Scholastic achievement should be the primary but not sole basis for nomination of a student. Leadership capabilities, ethical standards, fairness in dealing with colleagues, demonstrated professionalism, potential for achievement in medicine, and a record of service to the school and community at large shall be criteria in addition to the academic record.

D. Method of nomination: Members of each chapter, including students, residents, fellows, and faculty, shall establish procedures to apply the national criteria for nomination of new members for election. Each eligible candidate shall be considered separately. If academic records and/or personnel files of eligible candidates are reviewed in connection with the selection process, the chapter must contact the Dean's office to determine if the specific written consent of students is required prior to this review. If so, that must be obtained from eligible students before the election process. Only the chapter Councilor or the Councilor-designated member(s) should have access to grades or class standing of students. Conflicts arising about choices of students for nomination for election must be resolved within the institution by processes set by the chapter Councilor and Dean.

E. Students who have taken part of their medical school education elsewhere will be eligible for nomination for election to the Society after being in attendance for one academic year in the medical school of the nominating chapter.

F. Nominated candidates will be declared elected and inducted into the Society only after registration with the national AΩA office is completed and the first year dues have been paid.

Section 3: Resident and Fellow Memberships

Residents and fellows who were elected as medical students to the Society are automatically members of the chapter of the medical school sponsoring the educational programs in which they are enrolled. In addition, each chapter may nominate for membership in the Society each year up to three residents or fellows who have completed a first year of residency or fellowship. Such election shall be based on continued achievement and promise referred to in Article II and Article IV, with special emphasis on teaching of medical students.

Section 4: Alumni/Alumnae and Faculty Memberships

The provision for nomination by each chapter of up to two alumni/alumnae members and two faculty members each year provides a means of recognizing and honoring individuals who have distinguished themselves in their professional careers. Inasmuch as the number of individuals eligible for selection in these two categories is limited, chapters should evaluate carefully the professional and personal stature of nominees.

A. Alumni/Alumnae: Graduates of medical schools in which a chapter exists, who were not elected as students, residents, or fellows, but who, after ten years or more following graduation are judged on the basis of achievement to be qualified, may be nominated for membership in the chapter of the medical school from which they graduated.

B. Faculty: Members of the sponsoring school's Faculty of Medicine who hold an earned doctoral degree (M.D., Ph.D., or equivalent) and have demonstrated a commitment to scholarly excellence and medical education may be nominated for membership in the chapter of that school.

Section 5: Honorary Membership

The Board of Directors may elect physicians or others distinguished in careers related to medicine to honorary membership. Eligible are those who have attained national or international recognition in teaching, research, or in leadership roles that are relevant to medicine, and who are not eligible for election through other means. Election shall be by unanimous vote.

However, chapters use different processes for nominating students. Criteria, challenges, and recommendations for selecting student members include:

  1. Identifying the top 25% of the class: Some are challenged by the fact that their school employs a pass/fail grading system, making it difficult to determine students’ class ranks. Many schools use grades and USMLE scores to establish eligibility for nomination, and some continue to rely in part on them to select among eligible students. The dean or dean’s designate should provide the chapter with the top 25 percent of eligible students.
  2. In descending order of frequency, leadership, service, and professionalism.
  3. Some chapters invite eligible students to submit dossiers outlining their activities and achievements in each of these areas. A question was raised, "Should student nominees be informed clearly that as AΩA members they have a commitment to AΩA values and should support the chapter and uphold professional standards?"
  4. Many chapters have developed numerical formulas for ranking eligible students, utilizing the parameters noted above. Some variables, such as GPA and USMLE scores, can be assigned a value and entered directly into the equation. Others, such as leadership and service, involve a greater degree of subjectivity in assigning ratings. One approach used by some chapters is to divide eligible students into quartiles according to each parameter, assigning a rank of 1 to 4, and then totaling up the scores in each area. Attendees urged councilors who use such algorithms to share them with other chapters, so each chapter does not need to “reinvent the wheel.” Such algorithms can be shared with all councilors on a private section of the AΩA web site accessible only to councilors.

Selection of house staff, faculty, and alumni: In many instances, such candidates are not familiar to many student, house staff, and even faculty members. It is important for members to be on the look out for worthy candidates and to utilize nomination letters and CVs to enable colleagues to make informed voting choices. A related issue concerns the fact that house staff are often training at institutions or hospitals different from the chapters from which they were elected. Efforts to get the names and contact information of AΩA members from the school’s house staff office can be helpful. A new AΩA membership directory has just been published.

Concerns were also raised about the numbers of house staff, alumni, and faculty that can be nominated by each chapter. The number of eligible students is proportional to the size of the student body, but chapters are limited to two faculty members, two alumni, and three house staff, regardless of the size of the school. In effect, this makes AΩA membership much more difficult to achieve for candidates at larger institutions. This is an important issue, in part because faculty and alumni members often prove to be among the most engaged and supportive. There was broad support among attendees for making these numbers proportionate to the number of students. A motion concerning proportionate representation will be prepared by the co-chairs of the councilors meeting and submitted to the AΩA board.

Funding

While a few chapters receive funding from their dean’s office, more chapters assess chapter membership dues, which generally provide a stable base of funding. However, some attendees commented that the distinction between local and national dues can be confusing to members. Other chapters also generate revenue from the membership induction banquet, at which members are invited to contribute to the organization. Some chapters have developed fundraising appeal letters that generate high rates of response, and these could be shared among councilors. When chapters solicit members for chapter dues, it is important to clarify that these are for chapter support and that member should also pay their annual or lifetime AΩA national dues.

Chapter activities and national programs

Chapter activities include educational programs, mentoring, student health clinics, and fundraising. Some councilors, particularly those at schools where students are elected only in their fourth year, noted that it can be difficult to generate sustained student involvement. The fourth-year students tend to be busy with residency applications and interviewing in the fall and winter, and by spring many students are not so focused on school activities. The challenges in generating involvement among residents and fellows can be even greater.

When asked to name the AΩA national office program of most benefit to the chapters, members overwhelmingly endorsed the visiting professor and lecturer program. Many chapters solicit suggestions for speakers from students, faculty, and department chairs. In an effort to enhance two-way communication between chapters and the national office, councilors were urged to invite AΩA board members to serve as visiting professors and lecturers. This would enable the board to learn more about local chapter life, while also enabling board members to share information about national activities, such as new initiatives in the areas of leadership and professionalism. It is important to clearly identify AΩA supported lecturers as AΩA Visiting Professors and to publicize their activities within the institution and community. It was recommended that everyone attending a celebratory banquet or AΩA function receive an AΩA brochure, which summarizes the national programs and awards.

The councilors emphasized the importance of a celebratory banquet to honor the student AΩA nominees and their families and friends. By inviting AΩA members from the faculty and community, some get more than 200 attendees. The dean should be invited and have this on his or her annual calendar. Many invite their AΩA visiting professors, who also speak at the award dinner. Some charge $100 per person to attend the banquet and this includes payment for student attendees. The invitation letter often includes a request to support someone else from the chapter. Some recommended informing the parents that a gift of AΩA lifetime dues could be a part of their graduation present. Some partner with the local academy of medicine and or local or regional societies for invitations and financial support. It is appropriate to request financial support from the dean or dean of students. Brief remarks on the importance of nomination to AΩA for students are well received and inspirational.

Professionalism

Two new national office initiatives were introduced at the meeting, both of which have been the subject of recent Pharos editorials by AΩA executive director Richard Byyny. The first concerns professionalism. Chapters are strongly encouraged to include professionalism in member selection criteria. Some attendees noted that professionalism can be difficult to evaluate, though all agreed that it is vital. Moreover, chapters can help to promote a culture of professionalism in their schools, for example by sponsoring lectures and discussions on the topic and highlighting the fact that professionalism is an important criterion for selection to AΩA.

Leadership

Another new initiative concerns leadership. The curricula of many medical schools are so focused on scientific, technological, and clinical material that topics such as leadership tend to be overlooked. Yet the future of individual institutions and the profession of medicine as a whole hinges to a substantial degree on the quality of leadership they enjoy. AΩA can play an important role in helping to promote the development of medical students, residents, and faculty members as leaders. Again, AΩA chapters can sponsor lectures and discussions on the topic, and also ensure that chapter activities are carried out in a way that optimizes their leadership development potential.

Participation by New Members

Suzann Pershing led a lively discussion on the issue of fostering the ongoing participation of new AΩA members. Again, the new AΩA membership directory will help chapters to identify house staff members. Suggestions for enhancing participation included hosting a welcome reception for new house staff members, including programming of relevance to residents and fellows, creating chapter positions for house staff members, getting residents and fellows involved in student education, and developing a funding opportunity for projects by AΩA member residents and fellows. Following the councilors meeting, the AΩA board approved a new AΩA Postgraduate Award program, details of which are available on the website.

Communication

A final topic of discussion was communication within AΩA. Improving the quality of communication would benefit the entire organization. For the time being, the Pharos and dues notices are mailed to members, although these could begin to move toward an electronic delivery model. One possibility to improve communication among chapters and between chapters and the national office would be to utilize an outside vendor to create an electronic communication network. Various opinions were expressed on this point, and the decision was made to investigate options in more depth before reaching a decision. The AΩA national office has since implemented a member and councilor e-mail distribution system to facilitate communication with AΩA members and chapters.

The meeting generated considerable enthusiasm among attendees. The discussions were lively and spirits were generally high, as participants got to know one another and shared insights and experiences. Those present agreed that such meetings play a vital role in the health and vitality of the organization, by helping councilors to realize that the challenges they face are not unique and creating relationships for sharing ideas. There was broad agreement that such meetings should be available to new councilors on an annual basis, so that they can “learn the ropes” quickly and become part of this invigorating camaraderie. New councilors should invite experienced chapter councilors as visiting professors who can fulfill the responsibilities of the visiting professor and can work to educate and support the new chapter councilor.

Councilors should work to network with each other or with regional cohorts to learn from and support each other.

Thanks

From the executive director: Gabe Virella and Richard Gunderman deserve a big thanks from chapter councilors for organizing and facilitating the councilor’s meeting. Councilors should use the AΩA web site as an important information resource and can always call or e-mail Richard Byyny (r.byyny@alphaomegaalpha.org), Debbie Lancaster (debbie@alphaomegaalpha.org) or other staff at the national office with questions or recommendations.

Updated on January 27, 2012.


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