“Why are you here?”
I was asked this question more than once at the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Leadership & Advocacy Summit. As a practicing community surgeon, I seem to have struck some of the other surgeons as an unusual participant in the 2015 summit.
But my presence didn’t seem all that unusual to me. I want to share why I felt that way and why next year you should also consider accepting your invitation to participate. As Patricia L. Turner, MD, FACS, Director, ACS Division of Member Services, noted early on in the program, many of our colleagues now participate in the summit, and attendance and interest have grown steadily each year since the summit began in 2012. This year’s numbers were the highest to-date.
As for me, I attended for two reasons: leadership and advocacy. OK, three: connection.
All surgeons are leaders
As surgeons, we are trained to head our clinical teams, starting with our team in the operating room. This expands to the clinical teams we lead, as with trauma and burn care, breast and cancer care, and the myriad other clinical, educational, administrative, and management teams that define our practices. The team concept is ingrained in our training and approach to care, positioning surgeons well as the team concept expands to other clinical specialties, practices, and care-delivery models. Even starting in these small ponds, we lead.
These experiences, and the character and charisma we have developed in our operative and clinical training and practice, draw many surgeons into positions of leadership in their hospitals, organizations, and communities. We have a tendency to take charge and to act (even if we sometimes must work on our tact) because that is what surgeons do. It’s who we are. And as we become comfortable leading in one pond, we jump to another, this one a little larger, then on to the next bigger pond. Whether in a large academic practice, a state or national organization, or a small community setting—wherever we answer the call to lead, it is important to embrace any opportunity to enhance and enrich the skills we need to be successful leaders, such as those presented at the summit.
All surgeons are advocates
We advocate every day on behalf of our patients. Every time we must confront an insurance company to cover a procedure or a test, every time we meet with administrators to add to the capital budget so we can update our equipment, every time we sit with our patients and their families to educate them about and discuss treatment options and plans, we are advocating. All of these things that we do in the day-to-day care of our patients and in the communities we serve are about advocating.
Advocacy for our patients is a core principle of medicine and surgery; just as surgeons are drawn to leadership roles, we are similarly compelled to weave advocacy efforts into the fabric of our work. It is natural, then, to be drawn from the lower-case advocacy of our daily work to upper-case Advocacy, organizing and working with our peers to expand that service to the larger community, the state, and the nation; and to serve not just the constituency of our patients, but our peers, colleagues, organizations, and institutions.
Leadership and advocacy walk together and work together, as the scope of our service expands and grows. Connection and communication are both the tools and the foundation in the work of leadership and advocacy.
Connection is the third big reason I attended the Leadership & Advocacy Summit. More than just mingling and networking—although the summit was an excellent opportunity for that, too—I reunited with old friends and colleagues and met new ones. The summit even gave me the chance to meet surgeons I have been connected with virtually through the Internet and social media. I hope to maintain, or even build on, these connections beyond the space of the meeting itself. Just as connection and communication form the foundation on which leadership and advocacy are built, they are also the foundation for collaboration. At this time when we are experiencing so many things that divide our profession as physicians, and our discipline as surgeons, connection and communication help build the bridges we need to work together to tackle the problems and challenges that we face, both the expected and the unforeseen. This is critical to the concept of teams and teamwork, the structure and function of which will be an important part of any successful effort to navigate the vast number of professional changes.
The summit, culminating with the congressional visits on Capitol Hill, was a powerful experience illustrating the influence and success that we can have when we organize and work together. What prevailed during the meetings of our group from Massachusetts with our congressional delegation was a general receptiveness and genuine interest in learning what surgeons and the American College of Surgeons do, what we stand for, and on which issues we advocate. I was impressed with the staff members’ level of understanding and command of the issues, as well as the general support for our views. I was fortunate and honored to meet Rep. Seth Moulton (D), freshman representative from the Massachusetts 6th District. I thanked him for his support of the Medicare Access and CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Plan] Reauthorization Act of 2015 and the repeal of the sustainable growth rate, and I introduced him to some other important issues on behalf of the College.
Where will you be?
If you keep quiet because you think your voice does not matter or that you will not be heard, then you will be proven right. If you do not get involved because you think that you will not make a difference, you won’t. Only by speaking up can you have the chance to be heard. Only by becoming involved will you have a chance to make a difference. You may be met with indifference or skepticism, even outright opposition. Your audience may be small. The impact of your efforts may seem insignificant. But if you speak, if you act, you can have an effect. Even a small impact matters. It only takes one or two others to hear you speak or to observe your actions to follow your lead and magnify your efforts. The ideas spread; the effect grows. When that happens, you have become a person of influence and a leader.
This is why I was there. This is why all of us were there. This is why next time, you should be there, too. Will you be in Washington, DC, next April?