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Monday Oct 01, 2018

Opportunities to Lead Are at Hand. Seize Them!

There's more to leadership than just showing up, but it's a start. As I've said in this space before, it's important for family physicians to say yes to leadership opportunities.

If you say yes once, more opportunities likely will follow. I urge you to take them.

I didn't have special leadership talents when I first got involved with my state chapter more than 35 years ago, but an appointment to a committee led to me later chairing that same committee, which led to a role on the chapter's Board of Directors.

Along the way, I developed the skills I needed, such as being an advocate and working with the media. You might be surprised by what leadership roles you enjoy and excel at it, and you won't know until you try.

For example, I was apprehensive about my first trip to Capitol Hill. I was a rural, small-town family physician. Would legislators and congressional staff listen to me? The answer was yes. In the years since, I've made numerous trips to Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of patients and physicians. What I discovered is that I enjoy meeting with the folks who have the power and influence to make necessary changes in our government. It's not easy, but our specialty needs people who will provide insights from the family physician's perspective and attempt to make an impact on health policy.

Once you dive in, you might find a niche. I had a keen interest in parliamentary procedure, having chaired my church's business meetings for years. The responsibilities were similar to those of a speaker, which is a role I held for the Medical Association of the State of Alabama from 2003-2009. I also served in the Alabama AFP's delegation to the AAFP Congress of Delegates (COD) for a decade. Those opportunities led to roles as the Academy's vice speaker (2008-2011) and speaker (2011-2015). I loved it. Presiding over the AAFP's policymaking body was one of the great privileges of my career.

When the Congress meets next week in New Orleans, it will mark the end of my unusual 10-year tenure on the AAFP Board. (The president track typically is a six-year commitment.) During that decade, the profile of family medicine and primary care has risen through efforts such as Health is Primary, the three-year campaign from Family Medicine for America's Health that demonstrated the value of primary care in delivering on the triple aim of better health, better care and lower costs.

The Academy has become a trusted source of information for legislators, payers, policymakers and the press. It's not uncommon for the AAFP president to do more than 200 media interviews during a one-year term.

People inside the Beltway also are now more aware of the need for family medicine and primary care and the value we bring to the system. We know, based on a 2017 report of interviews with more than 2,000 administration officials, congressional staff and thought leaders, that the Academy is viewed as one of the most influential and bipartisan organizations in Washington.  

Still, change rarely happens fast in Washington. Ridding ourselves of the dreaded Medicare sustainable growth rate, for example, took years, and much work still lies ahead on the issue of payment.

It's difficult for members to know everything the Academy is doing to provide input to CMS, private payers and others involved in issues related to payment and administrative burden. That's one reason I thoroughly enjoyed my many visits to our constituent chapters. It was an opportunity to share updates on the Academy's efforts, as well as to hear directly from members about what was happening in your communities. Those stories help inform the Academy's actions.

In 10 years, I visited more than 30 states and met hundreds of family physicians. It was, in fact, one of my favorite parts of serving on the AAFP Board. You can tell when you are in a room full of family physicians. There is an undeniable collegiality and a common sense of purpose. Thank you for always making me feel welcome, even when you had tough questions that needed answers.

Next week, the COD will select several new leaders, including a president-elect and three new directors. There is a misconception by some that the Board is filled with only academics and medical administrators, but the reality is that the Board -- like the AAFP membership as a whole -- encompasses FPs from diverse backgrounds, including solo and small practice docs like myself. It's important that family medicine leaders at the state and national levels continue to demonstrate diversity not only in race and gender but also in geography and practice type so that our leadership represents our truly unique membership.

The breadth of our training and comprehensive nature of our specialty make family physicians experts in many areas, and our communities look to us as leaders. Are you ready to lead?

A wealth of such opportunities can be found not only in your state chapters but also in county medical societies and state medical associations. The AAFP has numerous leadership opportunities for active members, residents and students.

My time in this treasured role is winding down. Could yours be about to start?

John Meigs, M.D., is the outgoing Board chair of the AAFP. His term ends Oct. 10.

Posted at 01:18PM Oct 01, 2018 by John Meigs, M.D.

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