Encouragement Is Key to Developing Physician Leaders
Some people achieve leadership positions because they proactively seek and work for the right opportunity. Others get on the leadership track when the right person gives them an insightful and well-meaning nudge at an opportune moment.
During the AAFP's National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students this summer, we had an outstanding panel of primary care advocates who told their stories to our young and future family physicians. Panelist Jennifer Brull, M.D., of Plainville, Kan., said she wasn't involved with the Academy until her state chapter encouraged her to attend the National Conference of Special Constituencies -- now the National Conference of Constituency Leaders (NCCL) -- as a new physician representative in 2007. Once there, Mike Sevilla, M.D., of Salem, Ohio, told her, "You're running for a leadership position."
Brull hadn't planned to get that involved, but Sevilla planted the seed. Fast forward nine years, and Brull now represents the family physicians in her state at the AAFP Congress of Delegates, has served as chair of the Commission on Membership and Member Services, and continues to serve as a representative at NCCL.
Sevilla, who is roughly the same age as Brull but was already heavily involved with the AAFP, didn't ask his peer to run for office. He simply told her she should.
The bottom line, Brull told students and residents, is to say yes to opportunities.
I had a similar experience as a new physician. In 1982, I started a solo family medicine practice in my hometown in rural Alabama. There were only two other docs in town, so in those early years, I was extremely busy building and running my practice.
Eventually, my state chapter executive approached me and said, "Well, John, we gave you five years to get your practice started. Guess what? You're on the planning committee for our annual meeting."
Note that she didn't ask me to participate. Instead, she gave me that all-important, gentle nudge.
I didn't say no, and the next year I chaired that same committee. I like to know what is going on behind the scenes and how things work, so once I got involved, I was hooked.
"What else do you want me to do?" I asked.
The answer was, "Plenty."
There are plenty of reasons physicians cite for not getting involved in leadership. Simply being a physician takes incredible amounts of time and energy. Throw in a family, and additional responsibilities can seem daunting.
I had two daughters in school when I accepted that first state committee assignment in 1987, but we made it work. That appointment led to being elected to the board of directors of my state chapter and, eventually, chapter president. Being a state officer led to involvement with the national Academy through events such as the Congress of Delegates and the Annual Chapter Leadership Forum.
I have a keen interest in parliamentary procedure, and as early as my first trip to the Congress of Delegates more than 20 years ago, I knew I wanted to be speaker. But I was just a solo doc from a tiny town in Alabama. Would anyone vote for me?
Then one day during the AAFP's annual meeting, my wife and I were walking to the exhibit hall. Dale Moquist, M.D., who at that time was a past member of the Board and was serving as a member of the Academy's AMA delegation, shouted out to me, "Hey, John, when are you going to run for the Board?"
I was flabbergasted. I had been a delegate to the Congress for several years, but I didn't know he -- or anyone else -- really knew who I was.
We all need mentors, as well as support from our leaders. One again, I got the encouragement I needed. I served as vice speaker of the Congress from 2008-2010 and was speaker from 2011-2015. And I loved it.
I didn't originally intend to run for Academy president. I served seven years on the Board, and I had thoughts of riding off into the sunset. But once you get involved and know more, you see opportunities to contribute more. I've been in family medicine for 35 years, and I know I've made a difference for my patients. Could I take another step and make a difference for doctors and patients in a bigger role?
As I pondered this question, I got one more nudge.
AAFP Past President Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., said to me, "You only get one chance, and you would hate to go through the rest of your career with regret. If you run, you may not win, but you definitely won't win if you don't run."
To make a difference, you have to be willing to stick your neck out and be involved. I hope you'll join me in getting involved, finding your passion and making a difference for family medicine. And don't forget to encourage others along the way.
John Meigs, M.D., is president of the Academy. His term begins today.
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