President’s Page – Participation & Advocacy

by Tilden Childs, III, MD, TCMS President

As I begin this year, please let me say “Thank you!” for the opportunity to serve as the president of the Tarrant County Medical Society. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be allowed to serve my peers in this capacity. Indeed, participating in organized medicine has become my passion and is an integral part of my professional life. My medical “family” extends from coast to coast. At the Interim AMA meeting in late November, for example, I enjoyed visiting with and collaborating with friends from the TCMS, the Texas Medical Association, the American College of Radiology, and from the other state medical  and specialty societies from around the country while working on the myriad issues facing the medical profession today. It is through my participation in organized medicine that I have come to realize and appreciate the diversity of our profession, both in the range and breadth of our opinions and approaches to the practice of medicine as well as the diverse, and sometimes divisive, internal and external  pressures and issues facing the House of Medicine. However, I am more than ever convinced that the goal of service to and care of our patients remains the number one priority. The House of Medicine needs to remain unified in this mission. I encourage all of us, no matter what our employment or practice situation, to maintain unity by participation in organized medicine. 

From time to time people ask me how to become involved in or how to further their participation in organized medicine. As I reflect on the many opportunities that abound for one to serve in this capacity, I wish to share with you some of the things I have learned and observed on my journey in this complex and exciting world of organized medicine. This is not an all-inclusive listing of opportunities and venues but rather a “how to” guide based on some of my experiences and thoughts.

Participation
The action of taking part in something”

So, first and foremost, show up! Be present! Within the overall context, start by recognizing that there are local, state, and national general medical organizations/associations (TCMS, TMA, and AMA, for example) as well as numerous specialty colleges and societies (local, state, and national). So, join the appropriate organizations. Then, get involved in the activities of your society. Make the effort to attend meetings. Within each organization, there are committees, councils, commissions, and/or delegations pertaining to the various issues and aspects of medicine. So, find an area of interest and help by attending the meetings and getting involved with a committee, council, commission, and/or delegation. Also, understand that colleges, societies, and associations are interconnected, to some extent, such that participation in one can result in participation in others. So, for example, consider becoming an alternate delegate and then a delegate representing your organization at other societies. This could include helping to represent the TCMS at the TMA. Also follow the same steps in your specialty college and sub-specialty societies. Importantly, consider finding a mentor to help advise and guide you as your participation increases and as you ascend to new levels of leadership.

Another parallel path, particularly for those with a bent for politics, and not exclusive to the discussion above, is to be involved in the political process through advocacy, which has become a primary function of organized medicine.

Advocacy (from Wikipedia)
“Is an activity by an individual or group that aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy includes activities and publications to influence public policy, laws, and budgets by using facts, their relationships, the media, and messaging to educate government officials and the public. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning, and publishing research. Lobbying (often by lobby groups) is a form of advocacy where a direct approach is made to legislators on a specific issue or specific piece of legislation.”

The first and quickest way to start your advocacy effort is to join the Political Action Committees (PACs) associated with your organizations. PACs are integral to advocacy (and lobbying), providing structured organizations which provide you the opportunity to help in the selection and support of candidates and issues relevant to medicine. Next, take an active role in the political process as afforded by the various organizations and PACs. Begin to establish a relationship with your representatives and senators (state and national). This seems difficult to most people, but the TCMS and the TMA can help facilitate this. An excellent venue to begin the dialogue at the state level is to attend the TMA First Tuesdays during the biennial legislative session by accompanying the TCMS to the Texas Capitol. This immersive exercise is a great first step. This will “break the ice” to help you become comfortable talking with your elected officials and their staff. You can then explore additional ways to become more effective in advocating for your causes. However, rather than wait for the next legislative session (January 2021), consider meeting with your elected officials or their appropriate staff in their district offices to introduce yourself and then to offer to give help and insight on issues and policies being developed during the “interim” year (2020) prior to the next session. During the session, follow the action at the Capitol online through the Texas Legislature Online link which includes live and recorded access to committee meetings and sessions of the House and the Senate. (We are fortunate to have such robust access to our Texas political process.) Even more, consider going to Austin to testify in committee hearings on issues of importance to you. For those with higher level commitment ambitions, service opportunities exist through participation in state agencies. And finally, consider running for public office! (Or, at least actively support those who do.)

Participation in organized medicine has become my avocation as well as my current passion, and I hope others (many others) will come to see the wisdom and necessity of this stance. The future of medical practice always has and always will evolve, both in what we do and how we do it. It is our responsibility, as it always has been, to be on the forefront of this change and to guide this process along the path that will best benefit our patients and society as a whole, without leaving any individual patient unaccounted for. We have been fortunate to have such active participation with so many excellent leaders in Tarrant County. We can and should all work together to continue to grow the atmosphere of collegiality and cooperation by supporting the House of Medicine. As physicians, we are all leaders and we should, we must, recognize and accept this challenge and responsibility.

In my next article, I plan to give longitudinal examples of how an individual’s participation in medical organizations can help to guide and facilitate medical policy development and implementation. Again, thank you for this opportunity to serve!

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