I recently had the opportunity to join a group of California-based family physicians for the annual AAFP National Conference of Special Constituencies, or “NCSC” in Kansas City, Missouri. This meeting takes place once yearly in early May, and is designed as an opportunity for members of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) from underrepresented constituencies to meet, network and integrate their perspectives into the national organization. The meeting was first held in 1990 as the National Conference of Women, Minority, and New Physicians. There are now five Special Constituencies; in addition to the three listed above, International Medical Graduates and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Physicians are now represented. Over time, NCSC has become one of the best opportunities for leadership training and policy development on the annual AAFP events calendar.
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect as a resident, but was delighted to be asked to go along with the California Delegation. I was sure the conference would be both interesting and educational, but I was not nearly prepared for the amount of energy and work that we managed to pack into the three day event.
We began our official first day of the NCSC with a keynote speech from Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General and now head of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. What a way to begin! Dr. Satcher focused on the theme of leadership, remarking that he thinks of himself not as an expert, but rather a perpetual student of leadership technique. He described some of his opportunities to serve, and the experiences he encountered as both Surgeon General and in his current position. “How do we work towards our goals? How do we begin to address health disparities?” he mused. “We need comprehensive health systems, policy development, and leadership." He also noted "it's not the position you hold that makes you a leader, [but] it's taking advantage of every opportunity where you are." Well, that was all the delegates needed to hear. What followed was nothing short of a frenzy of activity motivated by the care and experience of a group of people who identify themselves, first and foremost, as Family Physicians.
Twitter messages began flying back and forth during Dr. Satcher’s speech, as people became more involved in high-tech communication, aided by the ever-popular smart phones and our own growing sense of interconnectedness. In addition to Twitter, Facebook was a popular mechanism to connect delegates from all states with one another. The Facebook site for the NCSC kept up a running commentary of events and daily images of the activities both at the Conference of Special Constituencies and the Annual Leadership Forum, the conference taking place simultaneously alongside the NCSC.
Following the keynote, we then moved into breakout sessions, discussing topics pertinent to each of the five special constituencies. Discussion could be heard even in the hallways outside the sessions, as people debated which issues were pertinent to the AAFP and what position the AAFP should take on a particular subject. Resolution writing on these topics was quick and efficient, and everyone was encouraged to get involved in developing, researching, and writing these policy resolutions. I had the opportunity to participate in the Women’s Constituency discussion, which turned into a really stimulating session, where we took real-world examples of challenges we encounter in the office and created resolutions directing the AAFP to address these issues at the national level. Each constituency had the opportunity to review the others resolutions and ask questions about the origin or intent of the statements. Leaders, or “conveners” of each constituency spoke in support for or against specific resolutions, and there were some impassioned discussions on many topics from debating AAFP’s place on the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) to improving continuity of care for migrant workers.
In addition to debate, attendees were asked to volunteer to review the resolutions in five Reference Committees. I had the privilege of serving on the Reference Committee on Advocacy, which reviewed eleven different resolutions developed over the course of the day. We met for the duration of one afternoon, reviewing and researching the suggested resolutions, which culminated in a committee report presented to the entire group of delegates on the last day of the conference. It was incredible to see so many people involved in developing the policy agenda, and the AAFP staff were incredibly knowledgeable and generous with their time as we worked to develop our final report.
Our last day represented the culmination of our previous two-day experience; from discussion sessions, resolution writing, to preparing reports and researching AAFP policy. All the official state delegates from each of the Special Constituencies had the opportunity to hear the Reference Committee reports and vote on each resolution. I was particularly impressed with the general discussion and considered opinions on all sides of the resolution debate. It was very rewarding to both participate in development of the resolutions and to see action taken on some of the issues at the close of the conference.
One of the best aspects of the NCSC that I didn’t anticipate was the fact that the entire AAFP leadership, including AAFP President-elect Dr. Glen Stream, current AAFP President Dr. Roland Goertz, and Board Chair Dr. Lori Heim, were all present at the conference, attending the simultaneous Annual Leadership Forum. Every AAFP Board member was also in attendance. There was a genuine sense of camaraderie at the conference, and everyone had an opportunity to interact, connect, and engage with every other attendee whether a first time attendee (like me), a seasoned member of a state delegation, or a member of the national leadership team. It made for a very special sense of engagement and contributed to my sense of team responsibility for our work during the conference. That's really what this conference is about - making yourself available and open to new ideas, new information and new opportunities. I was inspired by this incredible group of leaders and truly impressed by the amount of energy all the attendees gave to the conference from beginning to end. Given my experience this year at NCSC, I can’t wait until 2012.