What does it mean to be engaged? Since I’ve been involved in grassroots organizing and health advocacy for most of my adult life, I believe its means to find your passion and become a proactive participant and not just a spectator – for me that has always meant educating those in minority and immigrant communities and those who affect these communities on health equity issues as well as fighting for the rights of those who are marginalized within these communities. I spent much of my time in medical school working as the head of our mobile migrant farm worker clinic, as a Schweitzer Fellow helping to promote free hepatitis B screenings and free vaccinations at two free health clinics, and co-organizing multiple health fairs that served the Philadelphia Asian community. I also worked as the national grassroots leadership coordinator and subsequently, national chair of AMSA’s Race, Ethnicity, Culture in Health (REACH) action committee.
Even though I’m back in Chicago where much of my grassroots experiences began, I’ve had to put these types of efforts on hold. Unfortunately, residency doesn’t always afford enough time for a consistent commitment in terms of my health advocacy. I do have at least enough time to still remain engaged to drive systems change within our profession. If this is something you’re passionate about, what do you need to do first?
Educate yourself on the opportunities out there. Organizations that focus on AP/CP issues like ASCP (the CP here means clinical medicine as opposed to research, not just clinical pathology) and CAP are good places to start. Check out their webpages (www.ascp.org and www.cap.org) to see how residents can become involved. Both organizations have junior positions for residents on their committees and councils and both also have resident councils that you might be able to become a part of. Often, there are also reserved resident positions on committees within specialty organizations (eg – Association of Molecular Pathology aka AMP) as well. Google is your friend. So check their websites often and get on their email lists as most of these position applications or elections (for CAP resident forum aka RF) have deadlines in the early spring. ASCP and CAP also have resident representative and delegate to the RF positions available and each residency program handles the appointment or election of residents to these positions differently so ask your PD.
Many of these committee positions are fairly competitive so you might not succeed at first; simply try again. Build your CV and network at conferences as there are often opportunities built-in for physician leaders of these organizations and residents to meet. You’d be surprised how an innocent encounter with one of these organizational leaders results in an unexpected opportunity. Last weekend, I was in Tampa as the only resident representing our interests with the educational planning committee for the 2014 ASCP Annual Meeting. I had no idea that sitting at lunch with an ASCP leader last spring when I was chosen to be the resident representative at their Future of the Pathology Workforce Roundtable and Leadership Forum would result in her recommending me for this position. I had a great time (and away from the snow and cold in Chicago although I did get stranded in Birmingham for a day on my way back), my opinions were appreciated, and I think the conference is going to be awesome (btw, there is a resident boards mini-course built into this conference every year). But don’t be Machiavellian when you network – just be yourself and you may be surprised at the doors that open for you. If you’re sincerely passionate about something, trust that it will show and that good things will happen.
So, I gave an example of chance encounters that granted me unexpected opportunities and it happened because I was at a conference where I was presenting a poster. So, I highly encourage submitting abstracts and presenting posters at conferences. You never know whom you may meet or how they may touch your life. Plus presenting a poster or platform is a good experience to develop skills you need and to build your CV for subsequent fellowship and job applications. As I mentioned before, residency is not the same as medical school but more like the training ground for your first job. We all must be more pro-active at taking ownership of our education and we must no longer expect that our education will be spoon-fed or organized around our needs specifically. Be aware of and engaged in obtaining what you need because there isn’t necessarily a syllabus for how you should learn during residency.
Becoming engaged and involved with these organizations as a resident gives you a glimpse as to issues that affect our profession, now and in the future. It also gives you an outlet to be a part of that change because our opinions are truly valued – most of the ASCP and CAP committee and council positions support your travel and expenses to these meetings, so they really are making an investment in you and the resident opinion you represent.
And lastly, give your 110%. If you are chosen for a leadership role, take it seriously, work hard, and be humble – being entitled and saying that you were “too busy” if you miss a deadline won’t reflect well on you…after all, we all are busy and that’s where time management skills come into play. So find what you are passionate about and go after it!
–Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.