It's official. Five new member interest groups now officially are part of Academy culture.
AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, M.D., of Kingsport, Tenn., told AAFP News that the Academy's Board of Directors overwhelmingly approved the applications of the fledgling member interest groups at its July meeting.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the diversity of AAFP membership and to ensure that all voices are heard," said Blackwelder. "I encourage our family physicians to check out the different groups and see if any are a good 'fit' with their interests and concerns."
The overall concept of providing a unique forum for family physicians to network and share professional interests first was addressed by the Board in 2013. A task force convened by the Board laid the groundwork for development of member interest groups within the Academy, and those task force recommendations were approved by the Board in April 2014.
With family physicians' enthusiasm driving the cause, four groups quickly were developed (one already existed with a different name) with a minimum membership count of 50 family physicians -- in accordance with specific AAFP guidelines -- and now are available to all AAFP members.
- The AAFP Board of Directors recently approved the applications of four new member interest groups; a fifth group simply made the transition with no approval needed.
- Members can participate in groups with a special focus on direct primary care, hospital medicine, independent solo/small group practice, rural health and emergency medicine/urgent care.
- The new member interest groups, in the works since 2013, will give family physicians more opportunities to network, deliver a unified message to AAFP leaders, influence policy and pursue professional leadership development.
- direct primary care -- chair, Brian Forrest, M.D., of Apex, N.C.;
- hospital medicine -- chair, Eltanya Patterson, M.D., of Miami Gardens, Fla.;
- independent solo/small group practice -- chair, Kathleen Saradarian, M.D., of Branchville, N.J.;
- rural health -- chair, David Schmitz, M.D., of Eagle, Idaho; and
- emergency medicine/urgent care -- chair, Danny Greig, M.D., of Midland, Mich.
Formation of the first four groups listed above required Board approval; the emergency medicine/urgent care group didn't need that approval to transition to the new member interest group structure because a similar group had been in operation for the past four years.
When family physicians join one of these new groups -- or others that may be created in the future -- they can look forward to having new opportunities to
- network with like-minded colleagues and gather at the annual AAFP Assembly;
- connect to AAFP resources;
- participate in interest-specific continuing professional development activities;
- deliver a unified message to Academy leaders;
- influence creation of new AAFP policy and, at times, provide input on existing Academy policy; and
- pursue professional leadership development within the organization.
A member information guide, also recently approved by the Board, details governance of the groups and soon will be available on the AAFP website. The document clarifies issues related to the election of officers, dissemination of information, provision of meeting space, solicitation of funds, maintenance of groups, and transition to a member constituency.
All groups require oversight by an AAFP commission -- or the Working Group on Rural Health in the case of the rural health group -- and each will have an AAFP staff liaison assigned to provide assistance.
As the first chair of the rural health group, Schmitz expressed optimism about the work ahead in an interview with AAFP News.
"I knew I shared a passion for rural health and rural family medicine with some of my fellow Academy members," said Schmitz, who is the chief rural officer at the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho in Boise. He also serves as the program director for the residency program's two rural training tracks located in Caldwell, Idaho, and Magic Valley, Idaho.
Schmitz said he had no problem recruiting the required number of members as a prerequisite for preparing the initial application.
"This was achieved easily by networking directly with other AAFP members and with the help of our Idaho AFP leadership, and we still have members contacting us to join," said Schmitz. He noted that joining is a breeze -- simply click on the "Join This Group" box featured on the rural health group's Web page.
Schmitz said the support of his family physician colleagues in getting the member interest group application completed was rewarding. "It reinforced the positive energy that exists for this grassroots network of family physicians," he said. "We all care about rural health practice, policy and patient care."
The group's members will hold their first face-to-face meeting at the 2014 AAFP Assembly, Oct. 21-25 in Washington. There, they will have the opportunity to "communicate, grow the group and set priorities for what we will do together during this next year," said Schmitz.
The rural health group -- indeed, all the groups -- also will enjoy an online community to facilitate communication and serve as a source for sharing information to "move our issues forward throughout the year," Schmitz added.
As for Saradarian, taking on the role as chair of the independent solo and small group practice group came easily. "It was kind of handed to me because I wrote the resolution last year (during the 2013 Congress of Delegates) that asked the Academy to pay attention to the needs of solo and small group physicians," she said.
Saradarian said she'd been a solo practice family physician at Quality Family Practice in Branchville, N.J. for almost 11 years. "I have reception and billing staff members but no clinical staff support," she added.
What are her aspirations for the new member group she's leading?
"I'm hoping to get some discussion going as we look for real solutions to real problems," said Saradarian. Even small issues -- like buying vaccines -- can create big problems for solo and small independent practices, she explained. "If we didn't have to buy 10 MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines at a time, that would be a huge win."
"Now we will have the ear of the AAFP leadership," said Saradarian. Speaking for all the members of her group, she added, "Even though many of the family physicians in leadership positions at the AAFP have roots in solo practice, they sometimes forget the special needs of those of us in the trenches. Our voices need to be heard."
Related AAFP News Coverage
Step Right Up: Applications to Form Member Interest Groups Now Available