June 14, 2023 — I have been an advocate for family medicine and our patients for almost a decade through leadership roles with the AAFP and my state chapters, starting when I was a medical student at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. I highly recommend that medical students and residents take a leap of faith and get involved with the plethora of leadership opportunities available in family medicine, including those that will be voted on July 27-29 during the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students in Kansas City, Mo.
As a first-year medical student, I was elected president of my medical school’s family medicine interest group. It was a goal of mine in this position to increase awareness of the importance of family medicine as a specialty. By collaborating with other family physician leaders, from our Academy Board of Directors to members of AAFP commissions, I have been able to build a robust network of like-minded individuals who share my passion for family medicine. This network has opened the door to mentorship opportunities, collaborations and even potential job prospects as a medical student going into residency and beyond.
As a young leader participating in election activities, I had numerous opportunities to make campaign speeches and participate in Q&A sessions in front of large groups of my peers. These experiences allowed me to sharpen my public speaking skills and build confidence. Additionally, I was able to demonstrate my commitment and dedication to family medicine, which made me a standout candidate in residency application and job interviews.
As an FMIG president, I was invited to my first Ohio AFP meeting, where I was introduced to Sarah Sams, M.D., who had just been appointed chair of the AAFP Commission on Governmental Advocacy (now the Commission on Federal and State Policy). She helped me understand the importance of the Academy’s commissions and their role in discussing and taking action on resolutions adopted during the Academy’s policymaking events as well as generating recommendations and strategic ideas for the AAFP Board of Directors to consider. (The photo above shows the two of us; I’m on the left.)
The AAFP’s eight commissions offer roughly 150 positions members can fill, including opportunities for students, residents and new physicians to participate. Commission members influence the Academy’s work on educational activities, federal and state advocacy, public health efforts, member services and more. These commissions are where resolutions adopted during the National Conference of Constituency Leaders, National Congress of Family Medicine Residents and National Congress of Student Members are referred for further action.
During my service on the Commission on Health of the Public and Science and the Commission on Education, I discovered that both are influential and exciting commissions that medical students and residents can be a part of. I learned the importance of finding my voice and speaking up on behalf of the medical students and residents that I represented. Through thoughtful deliberations and collaborative discussions, we were able to identify potential solutions and generate recommendations that could drive meaningful change within the AAFP. This experience exemplified the power of grassroots advocacy and the importance of participating in professional communities when given the opportunity. It instilled in me a sense of responsibility to contribute to the betterment of our specialty.
President-elect Steven Furr, M.D., said during the recent AAFP Leadership Conference that he had set a goal to have every constituent chapter represented on the Academy’s commissions. If this is an experience you’d like to pursue, it’s worth noting that this year’s nomination period opens in mid-July.
I also have been fortunate to serve the AAFP as resident chair of National Conference and later as the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors. But my leadership path actually started when I was a student. I attended my first National Conference thanks to a scholarship funded by Dr. Sams, and I served as Ohio’s delegate to the National Congress of Student Members during the conference.
Dr. Sams was the first person who encouraged me to explore national leadership and advocacy, and I have watched her mentor and encourage many others to do the same. With her as my mentor, I ran for and was elected a medical student alternate delegate to the AAFP’s Congress of Delegates. She not only helped edit my speech, but she also helped me practice before I spoke at the conference. She gave me the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new.
Attending that first state chapter meeting helped me begin to refine my leadership skills and allowed me to be involved in guiding health policy through our Academy. It is through attending conferences and taking on these types of leadership roles that you will meet amazing mentors like Dr. Sams.
She and I recently attended the National Conference of Constituency Leaders, which offers leadership and advocacy opportunities for women, minorities, new physicians, international medical graduates, and LGBTQ+ physicians or physician allies. You truly don’t know what a small world our family medicine specialty really is until you see the leadership pathway to the Congress of Delegates and the Board of Directors that has been created from events like National Conference and NCCL. I did not expect to receive so much in return for my service to my state and national academies, and I highly recommend that you get involved.
Anna Askari, M.D., M.S.B.S., is an office medical director and family physician in Aliso Viejo, Calif.