When I joined the faculty of Marshall University as an Assistant Professor, fresh out of residency, I was assigned my first committee. It was the so-called "Human Experimentation Committee" – a precursor of today's Institutional Review Board (IRB). As my career unfolded, committee participation became a large part of my responsibilities. Some of these committees, such as the "Human Experimentation Committee," provided a service function for the institution (the review and oversight of clinical trials) and a learning opportunity for me. Others provided true leadership opportunities.
As a young surgeon, you should expect to participate in some committees. Sure, they take time, but they give you experience and visibility. If you are not at the table, someone else will be – why shouldn't it be you?
Service-oriented committees such as the IRB, the Medical Records Committee, Blood Bank Committee, and
so on, provide an easy way to get involved early and to get a window into how the institution operates. Over the long run, they tend to require more time commitment than they are worth, possibly because very little influence is wielded by an individual committee member.
More powerful institutional committees, such as the Surgical Services or Medical Executive committees, give members more visibility and a voice in how things are done. Committee members can actually influence institutional policies, even if only on a small scale. Membership in these leadership committees may be limited to Department Chairs, but some committees include a few seats for elected members. Check the bylaws.
Some institutional committees, such as the Admissions Committee (for a College of Medicine) require a significant input of time. Carefully consider whether it is worth it.
At the national level, committee involvement is a great way to gain visibility within an organization. Look at the roster of committees and study the bylaws to see how committees appoint members. Many organizations have a call for nominations (including self-nominations) annually. There are always committees that everybody wants to be part of (for example, the membership or program committees) and others that are less popular (for example, the bylaws committee). Unless you have already established an extraordinary reputation for yourself, be prepared to start with a less-popular committee and work your way up. There is frequently an Executive Committee or Council, which wields the most power. Membership is comprised of chairs of various committees and the organization's leadership. Sometimes a couple of at-large seats are reserved for the general membership.
Here are some factors to consider as you evaluate various committee opportunities:
1. Do I have special expertise or interest in this area?
2. Can I learn from this committee appointment?
3. Will it contribute to my own professional growth?
4. Will I be a strong contributor to the committee?
As for me, I'm still an IRB member, and I'm still on committees for several national organizations.