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2013 AΩA Councilor Meeting

The 2013 AΩA councilor meeting was held in Denver, Colorado, on October 3 and 4. Approximately one-third of chapter councilors attended, as well as several national officers and staff members from the national office. The program for the meeting was organized by a committee including Richard Gunderman, Elma LeDoux, and Gabriel Virella, and members of the AΩA staff. Experience of participating councilors varied widely: several had served as councilor for more than two decades, while others had been appointed to the post only a month or two before the meeting.
2013 Councilor Meeting attendees

Summary

The purpose of this meeting was to provide a forum with which councilors could ask questions and get advice on how to run their chapters. The main discussions centered around:

  • AΩA Handbook (v1.0)–Created by the national office to offer an overview of national programs, expectations, resources and share established best practices.
  • Nomination Process–Always a popular subject. Discussions centered around the election of junior as Chapter officers, the amounts of non-students eligible for election and how the society is promoted in the Chapter. Students need to know about AΩA and its values before they join.
  • Chapter Involvement–Closely connected to nominations, discussions were about making sure new members had Chapter events and responsibilities to participate it. The induction dinner and Visiting Professor program were discussed as a way to involve each Chapter's AΩA community.
  • Resident Involvement–Dr. Suzann Pershing,the society's residency initiatives coordinator, led a brainstorming session for ideas on how to get residents more involved in chapter activities. An important first step will be to make sure Chapters know where AΩA members are completing their residencies.

The Meeting Minutes

Executive Director Richard Byyny opened the meeting with a discussion of the importance of the leadership opportunity that every councilor enjoys, particularly with regard to promoting both AΩA and its mission to students, faculty, and alumni. There is ample evidence that many contemporary physicians are discouraged about the future of medicine, and AΩA can make a big difference in redressing this situation by fostering local discussions of medicine’s core aspirations and the practical steps all physicians can take to help promote them.

At each medical school, the AΩA councilor can serve as a node in the nexus of important networks in medicine, including different medical specialties, academic and nonacademic physicians, and different generations of physicians, from the most senior to the most junior. An effective councilor can act as a catalyst, helping the chapter and its members do a better job of serving physicians at all levels, as well as schools of medicine, hospitals and health systems, and the communities they serve. Councilors can provide critical leadership and help all parties regain a focus on medicine’s most defining and essential missions.

AΩA Handbook (v1.0)

The meeting featured the debut of the first chapter handbook for councilors and chapter AΩA personnel developed by the staff in the national office. This handbook remains a work in progress, but it represents by far the most useful resource chapters have ever enjoyed. The handbook’s purpose is not to tell councilors how to do their jobs, but to provide an organizing framework and range of options and best practices for the activities of each chapter.

The handbook addresses a variety of core topics of concern to every councilor and chapter, including AΩA’s constitution, information about the roles of officers and the board of directors, and eligibility and nomination procedures for different categories of members, including students, residents, faculty, alumni, and honorary members. It also covers AΩA’s many award programs, which support a variety of chapter-based and national opportunities in service, creativity, and leadership. Other helpful sections address chapter organization, staffing, and finance.

It is worth stressing that, in many respects, there is no “correct” way to run a chapter. Every chapter must operate in accordance with AΩA’s constitution, but doing so still provides considerable latitude to adapt to local challenges and capitalize on local strengths and opportunities. The councilors meeting provides an opportunity for participants to share new ideas and best practices. Many councilors commented on the many ideas they had encountered at the meeting, which they intended to share with members back home.

Nominations/Involvement

A perennial point of great interest among councilors are the different procedures chapters have adopted for nominating new members, which should include criteria beyond just grades and board examination scores. Chapters at schools with pass/fail grading policies often find it difficult to nominate students in their third year, which means that student members are elected as fourth years and then graduate in the same academic year. This makes it difficult to achieve the level of engagement and continuity in student leadership found in chapters that nominate third-year students, who stay on as fourth years. It is not difficult to identify the top 3-4 students to be nominated late in the third year and earlier selection of a few students can provide important continuity with student involvement later.

Another important point regarding new members is the fact that the organization’s constitution was revised in 2012 to allow many AΩA chapters to nominate more candidates in non-student categories for membership, in proportion to the size of the size of each student class. This change was enacted without reducing the number of such candidates any chapter can nominate. Many councilors report that new members in the alumni and faculty categories often demonstrate a particularly high level of enthusiasm for AΩA, so chapters should consider taking full advantage of this opportunity.

Chapters should also take steps to ensure that their school’s students, including incoming first year students, are well-informed about AΩA’s mission, history, and the nomination criteria for membership, so that students know how new members are selected. As previously indicated, different chapters assign different weights to such factors as scholarship, leadership, service, professionalism, and research. Though it happens infrequently, it is always a shame when a nominated student elects not to join, in part because it usually takes a spot away from another student who might be eager to do so.

Some chapters are inviting all students whose class standing makes them eligible for membership to submit brief reflective essays setting forth their understanding of AΩA’s mission and describing the ways in which they would help to advance this mission if they were to become members. This helps to prime newly elected members to hit the ground running and play an active role in the life of AΩA. It also provides additional useful information that chapters can use in determining which students to nominate for membership.

It is especially important that all chapters engage new members as active participants in the work of the organization. The probability that members will get involved seems to be highest near the time they first join. Many of AΩA’s most vibrant chapters have developed programs that give new members in all categories an opportunity to support the organization’s missions with their time, talent, and treasure. Going forward, the plan is to disseminate examples of such best practices through both the website and upcoming issues of The Pharos.

AΩA’s award programs are too numerous to detail here, but one that deserves more participation by many councilors is the Administrative Recognition Award, which provides a certificate of appreciation and a modest honorarium to the chapter staff person who assists the councilor in day-to-day operations. These administrators often contribute a great deal, and in many cases, doing so is not a part of their formal job description. The board and national office encourage councilors to nominate worthy administrators, many of whom find the recognition one of the most meaningful they have received.

Another program that merits more chapter participation is the Visiting Professorship program, which brings distinguished physicians and scientists to medical school campuses, where they address both AΩA members and broader medical school communities. One particularly appropriate occasion for such visits is each chapter’s annual induction banquet, at which visiting professors often serve as featured speakers. The national office supports each visiting professor’s travel and lodging expenses and provides an honorarium, making it a no-cost opportunity for chapters.

The induction dinner can play several important roles. Some chapters use the occasion as an opportunity to recognize faculty members who have been nominated by students as models of teaching excellence or professionalism. Many charge a sufficiently high price for paying attendees that inductees can be subsidized to attend at no charge. Others use the occasion as an opportunity for fundraising, sending out a request for donations with invitations. Some also hold silent auctions at which attendees can bid on items that have been produced by members or donated by local organizations.

Debbie Lancaster, managing editor of The Pharos and webmaster, reviewed the national organization’s website, which continues to improve. The website now features a Chapter Resources page with information specifically for chapter personnel.

Resident Involvement

A session at the councilors meeting led by residency initiatives coordinator Suzanne Pershing focused on keeping newly elected members engaged throughout their residency training, which often takes place at an institution different from the medical school where they were elected. An informal poll of participants revealed that at most institutions, resident members tend to have little role in chapter life. Residents can be involved in many ways, including participating in the new member nomination process, contributing to service projects, and helping to educate students about residency training in different fields.

One key in engaging resident members is determining which residents at an institution are AΩA members and then encouraging them to become involved in their local chapter’s activities. It is generally helpful to identify a resident or two who will serve as a local champion of resident engagement. The new Postgraduate Research Award program also provides another opportunity to engage residents. Of course, it is always important to query residents themselves about how they would like to become involved.

In conclusion, the 2013 councilor meeting was highly informative and energizing for those who attended, and provided participants with an opportunity to get to know one another and exchange helpful tips and perspectives. It is primarily at the level of each individual chapter that AΩA comes fully to life, and the extent to which each does so hinges in large part on imagination and dedication of its councilor. Serving as a councilor is an effective and rewarding way to make a difference not only for AΩA but also for the profession and the suffering patients whom we strive to be worthy to serve.

Respectfully submitted,
Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD
Elma LeDoux, MD
Gabriel T. Virella, MD, PhD

Last Updated: 10/31/13

Updated on October 31, 2013.


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