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Friday May 09, 2014

Looking for Inspiration, Rejuvenation? NCSC Could Be the Answer

Since graduating from medical school, I've made an effort to return to my alma mater for Match Day and hooding ceremonies every year. There's something about the energy that buzzes through the room at these events. So when frustrations like my electronic health records system or reimbursement issues weigh me down, spending a few hours among bright-eyed, future physicians reminds me of why I went to medical school in the first place.

When I was a student and, later, a resident, I attended the AAFP’s National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students. I enjoyed the opportunities to learn, lead and connect with my peers. But as I began my new practice, I shifted away from conferences and focused on being a good family physician. I also had my own growing family to think about.

I testified on behalf of the women’s constituency during the Reference Committee on Advocacy at the National Conference of Special Constituencies in Kansas City, Mo.

Little did I realize how important these conferences, and the opportunities they present, can be when it comes to enjoying what we do. It’s easy to become entrenched in the negatives in the day-to-day grind of practice. More than once, I found myself in conversations at my office about the need to change policies that hinder my ability to do what I love.

Fortunately, one of our state chapter leaders asked if I would be one of our chapter delegates at the Academy’s National Conference of Special Constituencies. I was unaware of this conference, but he explained that it is the Academy’s leadership and policy development event for women, minorities, new physicians, international medical graduates, and physicians who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) or who support GLBT issues.

Not only would I be able to discuss group-specific issues, it is a forum for change. I would have the ability to participate and learn about policy development and leadership. It sounded like a great opportunity, and I agreed to go as Nevada’s delegate for the women’s constituency.

When we arrived last week in Kansas City, Mo., my initial thoughts were that I would "get my feet wet" and just observe and take things in, but the event had a huge impact on me. I attended a workshop for first-time attendees and learned that I wouldn't be sitting in meeting after meeting or lecture after lecture. I would be participating in sessions where we would brainstorm policies, write resolutions and participate in our own caucus, elections and a business session.

After the opening session and plenary, I went to my constituency meeting. I admit I was intimidated by the fact that I did not know anyone in the room or what to expect. I was awed by the passion the delegates showed when we discussed the many health issues women face.

I watched as delegates volunteered to participate in the research and writing of resolutions that would be debated the next day in reference committee hearings. I felt the desire to make a difference and volunteered to help with a couple of resolutions after listening to the discussion amongst the delegates. The respectful banter in the room was refreshing.

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to work with the other constituency delegates in writing resolutions. I worked with delegates from the new physician constituency and my own. At one point, I was struck by the fact that I was amongst physicians from a variety of different practice models who had come together from all over the nation to create a better environment not only for ourselves as physicians, but for our patients and communities, as well. At the end of the session, I proudly handed in our resolution feeling satisfied.

During this first day, I learned of opportunities to volunteer for committees and run for leadership positions. I wanted to learn more about the process, so I applied to volunteer and was selected for the teller's committee. With only a few hours of exposure to this conference, I was already feeling rejuvenated and hopeful.

We did more than debate Academy policy. Our keynote speaker, Paula Braveman, M.D., M.P.H., gave an eye-opening presentation on health care disparities. Breakout sessions taught me how to speak with legislators as well as strategies on how to overcome challenges in leadership. Other sessions covered a variety of topics, including the legislative process, social media, giving a keynote speech and the challenges facing new physicians.

Here's another bonus: NCSC runs concurrently with the AAFP's Annual Leadership Forum, which offered even more opportunities to learn.

One of my favorite aspects of these events was the connections I made. The networking opportunities were amazing. I had the pleasure of meeting like-minded but diverse individuals. Some were completely new encounters, and there were also those I previously had interacted with only on social media. An added benefit was the chance to meet AAFP directors and officers, who attended the discussion groups, business and breakout sessions, caucuses and committee hearings.

Another interesting aspect was having a chance to interact with Academy staff, who I found to be organized and efficient. I have never seen a conference run so smoothly.

On day two, the constituencies elected new leaders, and I fulfilled my duties as a teller. Listening to the candidates’ speeches inspired me to take part in the change (rather than standing around discussing it in my office back home). I testified in a reference committee on behalf of my constituency on a resolution that I co-authored. At the end of the day, I felt accomplished and had a sense of purpose -- to improve family medicine and the quality of care in our communities.

The third and final day featured the business session. The process and format are similar to those used at National Conference and, ultimately, the Congress of Delegates, which is the Academy’s policy-making body. Discussion on the various resolutions brought forth left me feeling empowered with new knowledge and a voice to share these ideas.

As I sat on the plane heading back to my family and practice, I felt a sense of renewal. It wasn’t only a feeling that I did indeed choose the right specialty but an inspiration to improve our specialty for future students who choose to practice family medicine.

I'm grateful for a forum where groups with specific concerns have a voice that can be brought to our Academy. I cherish the relationships I made during these past few days. I excitedly look forward to the 25th anniversary of this conference next year when it returns as the rebranded National Conference of Constituency Leaders. It is sure to be another inspiring few days. I hope to see you there.

Helen Gray, M.D., is an employed family physician in Reno, Nev., working in a hospital-based setting. She also is adjunct faculty with the University of Nevada School of Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @helengraymd.

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The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.