Wednesday Jun 08, 2016

Catching a Dream: Participating in Leadership Keeps 'Goblins' at Bay

When we feel consumed by the constant flux of the health care system and its seemingly endless clicks and prior authorizations, we need something to nourish our nature as healers.

It helps to remember that we hold the key to the health of our patients, a point that was driven home at this year's AAFP National Conference of Constituency Leaders.

I often hear that this conference is the heartbeat of the Academy, the place where key issues are tackled with an emphasis on change. Each chapter is invited to send representatives from constituencies historically underrepresented in AAFP leadership: women; minorities; new physicians; international medical graduates (IMGs); and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) physicians and those who support GLBT issues.

This conference, which coincides with the Academy's Annual Chapter Leader Forum (ACLF), serves as a platform for innovation and policy transformation within our organization. Energy pulses throughout three jam-packed days, and new leaders emerge. Friendships are made. Connections are strengthened. Morales are boosted.  

In this environment, those lurking goblins that once held us back in our practices are stifled by the web of our dreams as leaders in our specialty and the health care system.

Looking at the more than 200 participants in this year's conference, I was struck by the image of the dream catcher. In Native American tradition, this circular web of natural materials hangs above a sleeping area where the morning light can hit it. The dream catcher attracts dreams to its web. Bad dreams do not know the way through the web and get caught -- then, the first light of day causes them to melt away and perish. Good dreams go through the center of the web and slide down to the sleeper below.

In today's medicine, we are the dream catchers. We, as family physicians, are a mixture of different media held together by the bond of providing excellent care to keep our health system focused on what matters. Just as the web of the dream catcher captures dreams and channels the ones with purpose to its beholder, we consider policy and reformations to enact change within our Academy and beyond. Through more than 60 resolutions at NCCL, delegates voted their consciences on topics such as payment, transgender care, burnout, student debt, and parental leave.  

The role of a dream catcher is not simply to ward off malignant thoughts or dreams. More importantly, dream catchers propel those they watch over to an improved reality. This is the exciting aspect of NCCL. It is a place where our Academy has invested resources that enable underrepresented constituencies to suggest policies that directly affect us and the people we serve. It is a way to bring new leadership into the organization and help current leaders refine their skills.

The vision of diversity in leadership is a recurrent theme at the conference. As important as it is to create a space for budding leaders to emerge, it is equally important that we in leadership, on both the state and national levels, be deliberate in our attempts to recruit leaders from diverse backgrounds. There is nothing more beautiful than to see the creative exchange of ideas from people of diverse cultures, backgrounds, practice types and roles. This is how dreams evolve into reality.

Another important theme that resounds in the conference is the interconnectivity of social determinants of health and health outcomes. We understand that our patients live within a context that is uniquely their own. Without basic provisions such as transportation, adequate access to food, a stable home environment and safe schools, the families for whom we care cannot focus on their health. We know this innately, but we as an organization have been challenged, in part through venues like NCCL, to put meat to this understanding. It was through the persistence of resolutions adopted at NCCL that stances on childhood obesity, transgender care and protection of physician autonomy germinated. These resolutions guide our Academy to dig deeper into the issues and form evidence-based opinions that can further empower our members. More importantly, we are reminded that we are accountable for treating our patients within their unique contexts.

So vision and accountability stem from an electric gathering of people from all over the country. I would also contend that hope and joy abide in this space! What better way to combat burnout than to come and work for improvement alongside equally passionate individuals?

I am thankful that our Academy invests in its future through conferences such as NCCL. The AAFP pays airfare or mileage for each chapter to send a new physician delegate in addition to three other individuals attending NCCL or ACLF. I hope to see all chapters represented next year, when the conference is held April 27-29 in Kansas City, Mo. I promise you it will be time well spent among the dream catchers.

There are two more AAFP events this year where members can help shape Academy policy. The National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students is July 28-30 in Kansas City, Mo. The Congress of Delegates is Sept. 19-21 in Orlando, Fla.

Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, M.D., is the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Wednesday Mar 07, 2012

'Inspirational' Forum Grooms FP Leaders, Helps Chapters

Who will lead the next generation of family physicians? Who will be a force for change in your state chapter? Could it be you?

Many Academy leaders start their journey in the AAFP with the wonderful skill-building opportunities provided at the the National Conference of Special Constituencies (NCSC), the AAFP’s forum to address member issues specific to women, minorities, new physicians, international medical graduates, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender physicians.

But less recognized are the skill-building benefits of the AAFP's Annual Leadership Forum (ALF), where chapter leaders and newly elected Board members learn from their peers what a state chapter can accomplish. 

In 1986, J.J. Smith, M.D., a family physician colleague from Anchorage, Alaska, pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to be on our state chapter's CME committee. Fresh out of residency training and in my first job at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, I was honored and surprised. Attending my first State Officers Conference, as ALF was called then, was an eye opener. I met impassioned family docs from all over the country, working at the state and local level to promote the tenets of family medicine: legislative advocacy, promotion of healthy lifestyles, participation in clinical medical education, and sharing tips and tricks on practice enhancement.  

Over the years, I found this annual meeting to be incredibly inspirational and rewarding. Each year I returned to my state with a new vigor and outlook on my practice. New attendees from our chapter became our new chapter leaders, and the baton was passed to freshly minted chapter leaders who were infused with the spirit and joys of family medicine practice and excited about the opportunity to make a difference.

I learned tips and tricks for organizing my work habits, and rediscovered how to achieve a better work/life balance. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to talk with inspiring colleagues who had taken on some of the challenges I was facing and found success.

The ALF/NCSC conference is a unique opportunity to blend networking with leadership skill-building, and it offers the opportunity to get back in touch with the core values that made me choose family medicine in the first place.My return to my practice and chapter always benefited from a renewed enthusiasm after attending the ALF/NCSC gathering. My fellow chapter colleagues in attendance developed a shared vision of where to take our chapter in the upcoming year, and we identified resources through conference networking that we shared with our chapter executive and staff that made success in our projects more likely.

As a small AAFP chapter with geographic challenges and limited resources, Alaska has benefited greatly from the opportunity to attend this terrific annual leadership event. The financial support for new attendees has been invaluable. I, for one, would not have continued to meet with my regional and national colleagues year after year if it were not for ALF and the NCSC.

I am appreciative that the AAFP has consistently supported and funded this very worthwhile conference for leadership development, and hope that those of you who are considering becoming more involved in community leadership and AAFP chapter activities choose to attend. You will not be disappointed.

This year's events are scheduled for May 2-4 in Kansas City, Mo. I'll see you there.

Barbara Doty, M.D., of Wasilla, Alaska, is a second-year member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Wednesday Feb 29, 2012

A Challenge to All Chapters: Send a New Physician to NCSC

Last May during the AAFP's National Conference of Special Constituencies (NCSC) and Annual Leadership Forum (ALF), Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, M.D. -- who was then chair of the Commission on Membership and Member Services -- issued a challenge to the assembled chapter leaders: one year later, every chapter should send a new physician delegate to NCSC.

I was so impressed with the wisdom and the importance of this challenge that I echoed it in my Board installation speech at the Congress of Delegates a few months later. At least one chapter president personally thanked me for the challenge and vowed to do her best. With a little more than two months to go until NCSC, it is time to start making those plans a reality.

NCSC is held each year in early May in conjunction with ALF in Kansas City, Mo. This year's event is scheduled for May 3-5.Chapters can send up to five voting delegates, one from each constituency: gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender physicians, minorities, new physicians, women, and international medical graduates.

The NCSC serves two great purposes within the AAFP. First, it gives AAFP members with a broad diversity of viewpoints a forum to bring their unique concerns forward, crafting and debating resolutions through the parliamentary process that can influence the direction of the larger organization. Secondly, it excites and energizes those members to be a force for change in family medicine and returns them to their chapters with a new appreciation for what leadership means in their own lives and careers.

The AAFP has 55 chapters, and NCSC typically attracts about 30 new physicians. The event averages 12 full delegations. Personally, I think every chapter should send a full five-member delegation to NCSC every year. It is just that important.

But why start with new physicians? And, why should small chapters with limited financial resources choose to make this investment a priority?

It's because every AAFP member was once a new physician. Through involvement at NCSC, your chapter's newest members can catch the fire and excitement of leadership.  Many of the great doctors who are leaders in AAFP chapters today -- your officers, committee chairs, delegates, and presidents -- got their start at NCSC. It isn't just a forum for guiding people into national leadership: NCSC attendees will bring the energy, ideas, and knowledge they have gained back into their own local groups. By investing in sending a new physician delegate to NCSC, chapters are ensuring their own better futures. It is the most vibrant and exciting meeting that the AAFP hosts all year.

If you send your chapter's young physicians, chances are they'll be hooked and will go on to provide your chapter with years of engaged, energetic, and thoughtful leadership. Individuals who register for ALF/NCSC by March 21 save $50, so don’t put this off. Start developing the next generation of AAFP leaders in your chapter today.

Robyn Liu, M.D., M.P.H., of Portland, Ore., is the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

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