Improving Health Through Medical Physics


Cynthia McCollough, PhD | Rochester, MN

AAPM Newsletter — Volume 43 No. 5 — September | October 2018

How to volunteer — and lead — in AAPM?

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:

  • Action: Respond to AAPM yellow pages ad for a new member in a committee, sub-committee, task group or working group.
  • Learn: No one responds to your inquiry so you assume that you can't get on an AAPM committee, sub-committee, etc.
  • Build: You form a negative impression of AAPM committee system and complain to others that leadership is a closed, "old-boys" club.
  • Repeat: Not likely.
  • Outcome: You do not get to where you want to go.

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!

Leave a Comment

Comments (2)

Dr. Kasraie

09-22-2018 12:44 PM

The author means very well, but merely offers a picture of how things should be, not how they actually are. The AAPM committee system is for all practical purposes "an old boys club" indeed. I've been attending every sat/sun committee meetings at both RSNA and AAPM since ***2013***, and I can testify that's EXACTLY how things are run. The CT group are always a certain group and their students and friends (Cody, McCollough, McNitt-Grey, Samei etc), the MR also the same group (Och, Clarke, Jordan, Stafford, Panda), the Nukes (White, Halama, Clements, Mawlawi, Kappadath), so on and so forth. I've talked, emailed, and even proposed ways with the chairs of many of these sub-committee groups to get involved. I've tried different subjects in hopes of better luck elsewhere. No effect. I know of TG/subcommittee groups that have not yet even officially formed (but are about to), and yet we already know who is going to be in on the group. When the old members 'rotate off' they simply permutate onto another 'nearby' group, and effectively continue the closed cycle. Perhaps one sign that things are an 'old boys club membership operation' is that you look at many people around in these groups, and they get appointed to vice chair or as a new voting member to a committee when they already have 15 other membership appointments and are already vice chair in 5 other committee groups. It's not hard to spot such people. To me, that's a sure sign of cronyism. And I have seen it happen many times. And it was not warranted imho. Suffice to say that the only way to get onto these committees is to either have a close connection in one of them, or more effectively, start a task group or committee or working group yourself and drive the whole thing yourself with your buddies. Otherwise you'll most likely remain on the 'guest' list of session participants for years, and after a while, you'll start wondering if AAPM is really a worthy venue for volunteer work. Many of us have.


Dr. McCollough

09-23-2018 13:23 PM

Dr. Kasraie,

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my newsletter article, as it helps me to understand some of the comments that leadership hears about AAPM being an "old boys club." It also gives me a chance to respond to your thoughts. AAPM leadership is committed to transparency and communication, and so whether we agree with or even like a comment doesn't matter; we still want to hear it.

I have served on AAPM groups since starting on the AAPM (1985). The way that I describe is the way that I, my younger colleagues, and my trainees have experienced the AAPM. I'm sorry to hear that you have had a different experience. However, I do see that you are a member of two sub-committees and two task groups. So, I think that your attendance has paid off and chairs have recognized your interest by adding you to these groups.

The executive committee has spent a great deal of time this year looking back through the comments from the 2016 member survey (216 pages of data). The overall statistics show that most members are either pleased or very pleased with AAPM. We didn't stop with that high level view, however. We have read and reread every comment, looking for common themes that we might be able to do something about. The old boys club was mentioned a few times, which makes me smile inside since I made into leadership but am not male. In fact, EXCOM has majority female membership. But, I don't think gender equity is the point of your comment. ;-)

What we have done so far on this topic is reach out to each and every committee chair and ask they he/she appoint at least one trainee to his/her group as a guest (chairs can appoint guest members), as well as strongly consider recommending to the parent group people who are in the early phase of their career (the parent group is the one who actually makes member appointments, not the chair of the group itself). Our reason for making sure we appoint trainees and new professionals to AAPM groups is to build a pipeline of engaged members of groups who will transition into membership roles and eventually leadership roles. We are very much trying to give those who want to volunteer an opportunity to do so. Those who do volunteer and who find it fulfilling will tend to volunteer again and again, and so yes, you do end up seeing the same names in a lot of places, but this is because they are always at the table ready and willing to take on new (unpaid) work.

In addition, as president-elect, I appoint or reappoint a lot of people to various positions. I have a huge spreadsheet to fill out and for people who are rotating off somewhere, either I or the parent group need to find a replacement. I have been very intentional in seeking out suggestions of names beyond the scope of people that I know and regularly interact with. In fact, I just posted a "committee classified" ad looking for a volunteer. I am looking for interest and the right background (i.e., the experience to fulfill the needs of the position) and it doesn't matter if I personally know the member or not. This process happens every year, and we have a new president-elect every year. So a lot of different "circles" of expertise (and friendships) are reflected in our committee and individual appointments.

I think the reason that you see the same people over and over, like me, is because of our personal investment in the work of the AAPM and the fact that people volunteer in areas where they have experience. When I directed our radiology resident physics program, I served on the Training of Radiologists committee (now rebranded to Education of Physicians) and eventually was its chair. I also helped with the AAPM/RSNA physics tutorials and eventually led that effort. When I left my resident education role at Mayo, and as my research program in CT grew, I invested my time in CT related projects, chairing several task groups and serving on the CT subcommittee. I've never felt it to be "cronyism." Rather, it just makes sense that my activities in AAPM mirror my activities in my clinical and research work.

With regard to vice-chair rolling into the chair position, and hence serving a longer term, that is an intentional part of succession planning. The vice-chair is supposed to rotate into the chair position, having been "trained in" by being vice-chair. This gives organizational memory to the group so that we carry lessons learned from prior work forward in time.

With regard to new task groups, defining the membership prior to official formation is a requirement of the task group approval process. Not only must the motivation for the group be strong (i.e., there is a clear need), the charge and membership must be defined so that as the proposal moves through the approval processes, parent groups can see that the expertise is present to accomplish the charge. Others may be added during this approval process to ensure that a core of experts on the topic are present to start the work. So, really, someone can't just gather his/her buddies together and start a task group. There are checks and balances along the way. In fact, I have seen several task group proposals either turned down or strongly edited because the membership was too tightly connected or had too many people from the same institution. AAPM task group reports are definitive documents on a topic and we need a variety of experiences and opinions at the table to create the best product.

In summary, please be assured that there is very careful vetting of group membership by parent groups and leadership, not only to avoid "cronyism" and the good 'ol boy network, but to ensure that we have the needed skill set and experience for a successful report. Thank you for being one of these people in the groups that you are currently a member of.