Act – Learn – Build – Repeat! That was the message shared by Paul Brown during the 2018 Annual Meeting's President's Symposium. That is his recipe for creating the future that you want. He encouraged taking a small step (act) toward your goal and consider the outcomes (learn). Did the action take you close to where you want to go, or was it a dismal fail? In either case, modify it (build) and then act again (repeat). This is how you go from where you are to where you want to be.
Many people have asked me about leadership within AAPM, particularly how one can become a leader in our association. Dr. Brown's recipe is a great model to use to achieve this goal. So, let's start at the beginning with a new member of AAPM who wants to volunteer his/her time and talents to serve the profession of medical physics through service to AAPM. A game plan might look like this:
Hmmm, why didn't that work out? Well, there are a few things wrong with this approach, besides the obvious fact that it didn't work. Most critically, the cycle stopped, with no iterations to find a better way forward. Rather than passively waiting for an already too busy volunteer (with a busy day job too) to get back to you, I suggest the following tried and true technique for becoming involved in the work of AAPM: SHOW UP!
That's right. The first action should be to look at the vast number of committee, sub-committee, task group and working group meetings that occur during an AAPM meeting (primarily the Annual Meeting and at RSNA, although a small number of groups do meet at the Spring Clinical and ASTRO meetings) and pick one—or more—to attend.
What is your interest? Education? We have groups involved in the education of physicians and in the education of allied health personnel. Research? We have literally hundreds of scientific task groups, whose end goal is to produce a definitive report on a specific topic. We have a number of Professional and Administrative groups as well. There is definitely something for everyone. The list for the 2018 Annual Meeting appears here. Glance through and find something that you are interested in and that you'd like to work on, and then plan to attend. You can also drop an email to the Chair noting your interest and background. Ask to be added as a guest to the group. This will allow you to participate in online discussions and remote meetings. Chairs love having energetic new members who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work of the committee. Regular attendance, and volunteering to do some of the needed work, is the best path to membership. Now the committee may already be pretty large and the Chair may not be adding new members right away. But, if you really want to serve there, keep attending and demonstrate your willingness to contribute, and when a current member rotates off, you'll be a natural new appointee.
So, if that is how to become a member of a committee, sub-committee, task group or working group, how do you reach a leadership level? The answer, similar to show up, is WORK HARD. AAPM committees, sub-committees, task groups and working groups have work to get done. They are not there just to build your CV. We need our volunteers to participate regularly in meetings, to do work between meetings, to review reports in a timely fashion, and to be good citizens of the group. This latter part is essential. Meetings are meant to be inclusive and gather opinions from all present. They are also supposed to be constructive, moving toward a solution rather than turning the topic into a debate. Our time together in face-to-face meetings is precious and we want to spend it well. Raise your hand and wait for the Chair to recognize you when you want to speak, try not to interrupt others, and don't give speeches. We want to hear from you, but we want to hear from everyone else in the room too. Finally, be there to help the Chairperson. For example, if he/she is trying to gain consensus on a point and move on to other topics, help them out by not bringing up tangential discussion points.
A really great way to gain leadership experience is to serve at the chapter level. Chapters are almost entirely volunteer led and there is much work to be done. Active participation in a chapter can even result in serving as a chapter representative to the Board, which is a great "short-cut" to board service compared to waiting to win a board-member-at-large seat. We need active grassroots programs and opportunities at the Chapter level, so get involved there. I guarantee that you will be warmly welcomed.
Another typical question is "How are Chairs selected?" The Chair, Vice-Chair, and members of a group are appointed by their parent group. The parent group's Chairperson, however, typically speaks with the current Chair of a group to gather suggestions. If you have been a regularly attending committee member and demonstrated initiative, your name is likely to be mentioned. While you wait for this opportunity, observe how the Chairs of groups that you are on, or that you visit, handle conflict, lack of follow-through, inclusiveness, and report preparation. You'll see many styles of leadership. Note those that seem effective and use that knowledge when you rotate into a leadership role.
Are you interested in senior leadership? It's worthwhile to navigate through the committee tree on AAPM website to see how our organization is structured. Senior leaders are those that have volunteered – a lot – typically in multiple branches of the organization. If you look at the service history of senior leaders, you will see years of active service and multiple experiences as a Chair. As you consider this level of service, you will want to attend council meetings (as a guest – almost all AAPM committee meetings are open to guests). You'll want to attend the Annual Business Meeting and even the Board Meeting. This will help prepare you to serve at this level, both by familiarizing yourself with current issues and topics of discussion, and by watching the more formal operation of the councils and board.
I hope that this primer to volunteerism and leadership within AAPM prompts you to become an active volunteer. I have found my 30+ years of membership in AAPM so rewarding because of the opportunities that it has provided to serve our profession and our patients through service to AAPM. If you have further questions, reach out to your chapter leaders, council leaders, members of the Board or the Executive Committee of the Board (EXCOM). We are here to help engage and train the next generation of AAPM leadership!
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