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Some thoughts for young surgeons

National Visibility Through Committee Activity

A young surgeon recently asked me how she could gain more visibility at the national level. Participating in committees for national organizations is a great way to do this.

Committees do most of the work of any organization. Larger and more complex organizations tend to have many more committees than small ones. There is an unwritten hierarchy of committees. Some are high-prestige, high-visibility, and are very difficult to get appointed to. But almost every organization has less prestigious committees where an aspiring surgeon can start.

As with any activity, do not commit to something unless you can do the work. Establish a reputation from the outset as a willing worker, by applying yourself 110% to the task at hand. Match your abilities and talents to the work of the committee. If you have a strong publication record, volunteer for a committee that will do a lot of writing and/or editing. If, on the other hand, you are facile at new forms of electronic communication, bring those strengths to the website committee.

There are basically three ways to get onto a committee:
1. Volunteer, either at the annual business meeting or through an online or written form supplied by the association.
2. Have someone more senior in the organization nominate you.
3. Talk to the staff at the association meeting (or at a booth at the American College of Surgeons, for example) and find out what committees are looking for members
Get to know the permanent staff of the organization, as well as the physician leaders. Permanent staff watch physicians rotate on and off committees and often wield considerable influence when assignments are made. Get a reputation for hard work and low-maintenance. No one wants a diva on their committee.

Here is a brief guide to some typical committees.
• Website committee – a great one for young members who are familiar with various social media and electronic access. Most senior members (including me) are terrible at this!
• Resident (or medical student) education – another great one for junior faculty, who are relatively fresh from residency and often on the front lines of residency or medical student training.
• Continuing education – generally related to the annual meeting, work may be seasonal, with peaks of activity before that meeting.
• Research – usually evaluates proposals for small grants. Research funding and grant evaluation (eg NIH, NCI) is a plus.
• Program – determines how the annual meeting will be laid out (time slots, concurrent sessions or not, panels, invited speakers) and evaluates and scores abstracts. A lot of work, tied to the calendar of abstract due dates and annual meeting. A prestigious committee, but there is often room for willing workers.
• Patient Education – writes, edits, and develops materials for patient education. Always looking for skilled clinicians who know how to write.
• Foundation – fund raising.
• Membership – strategizes to build visibility for the association. Evaluates applications for membership. May be a subset of Executive Committee.
• Journal (Publications) – requires editorial and writing experience. May lead to an appointment on an editorial board. Typically not an entry-level committee.
• Nominating – determines the slate of officers. Often a subset of the Executive Committee.
• Executive Committee – very prestigious. Usually requires a substantial record of service to the organization. By invitation only, often officers and past-officers, but generally with a member (or two or three) from the membership at large.

Don’t hesitate to ask around, get some information, and dive in. You will not only increase your visibility and gain insight into how the organization works, but you will also give something back.
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