August 12, 2020

The Value of Professional Societies

Christine Kim, MD, is a neuroradiologist and interventional radiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Headshot Christine Kim, MD

“You are a leader.” Hearing this as a new first year resident from one of my attendings flattered but confused me. Had I impressed him somehow, perhaps with an astute observation or proactive attitude? I eventually decided, no. This was a statement my attending had probably said to countless trainees. However, each time he said it, he was right.

By the nature of our profession, we are all leaders. We impact our patients’ lives every day by leading entire teams of physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, RTs, and administrative staff, whether in the interventional suite, the clinic, or the reading room. Yet in the larger context of healthcare, we can feel lost. How can we, as early career physicians, make meaningful contributions to our specialty and help our patients beyond the walls of our institutions?

Healthcare will continue to change. The government, insurance companies, tech industries, and pharmaceutical corporations all have ideas about how healthcare should look but few share the same vision. Ultimately, many decisions about healthcare are made by those outside our profession. Societies, such as the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) and the ACR, allow physicians to organize, interject, and share our patient care expertise during the decision-making process. Both societies engage in dialogues with Congress, CMS, and other government agencies and payers regarding legislation, regulation, liability, and reimbursement. Some of the recent discussions included access to imaging, budget neutrality waivers to curtail the proposed 9% reduction of Medicare payments for interventional radiology, and addressing the California AB-890 bill that would allow nurse practitioners to interpret imaging studies unsupervised. These types of macroscopic changes will dictate how we practice medicine on a microscopic level. One way we can help direct the evolution of healthcare while protecting our patients and ourselves is to simply maintain our membership to SIR and ACR, which maximizes our clout. For those of us who want more active roles in shaping the future of our specialty, both these societies offer plentiful opportunities.

As much as we may be motivated to expand our leadership skills outside the procedure suite, starting conversations at the federal level sounds daunting. Professional societies can ensure that we do not need to promote our causes alone, but as early career physicians, we can feel lost within our own organizations. Well-respected senior physicians have earned their place on boards and committees over the length of their careers while we have only just begun to establish ourselves as attendings. However, senior leaders recognize our value and have created multiple initiatives to empower us. For example, SIR deliberately appoints early career physicians to numerous committees and encourages any organization seeking SIR endorsement to consider us as possible presenters and panelists. When the Early Career Section emphasized female representation in interventional radiology as a high priority topic, women within our section were accepted to speak in Compelling Conversations at the 2020 annual meeting. The ACR recently passed Resolution No. 35: RFS and YPS Standing to Submit ACR Resolutions, which formally permits trainees and early career physicians to propose changes and participate in the governance process within the society. SIR and ACR have built pipelines for physicians at any career stage, including those in training, to realistically lead powerful movements of change. Now, we need to decide if becoming involved is worthwhile.

At a minimum, professional societies require membership dues, which can be hundreds of dollars. Although SIR and ACR reduce dues for members within their first few years of training, active involvement additionally costs us annual meeting registration fees, travel expenses, and time. We can rationalize that these societies already have enough members, that nonmembers benefit from societal advocacy as much as members, and that our participation will not make a difference. However, joining SIR and ACR may be one of the most important investments of our careers. Aside from adding to political clout, engaging in activities within these societies allows us to strengthen our problem-solving proficiency, forge fulfilling and collaborative relationships, and acquire new skillsets beyond the clinical setting. We are not limited to advocacy roles to gain these experiences. Many types of volunteer opportunities are available in both societies, including contributing to their libraries of educational and CME activities, professional development programs, practice guidelines and toolkits, mentorship, and public awareness campaigns. As members, we can also take advantage of these resources, as well as research funding and networking endeavors. The costs of society memberships can quickly become overwhelming, especially when joining multiple organizations. If considering only one association, SIR provides interventionalists with more focused resources while the ACR equips us with broader benefits. Interventionalists should recognize that the ACR is a larger society and that we must maintain our presence to ensure our interests are accurately represented.

A 2012 JAMA article described professional organizations as consisting of visible leaders and passive listeners. SIR and ACR understand that as interventionalists, we are all leaders — and far from passive. They realize that the value of any society rests upon its members, and they are investing in us as the future of our specialty and patient care. Once we recognize our own worth, we can see that the benefits of contributing our time and interest will grow exponentially.