A medical association with a good network of volunteers can depend on them to team up with meeting planners to produce educational sessions at which timely topics are presented by competent speakers. In a perfect world, volunteers come away from the experience proud to have made a significant contribution to their field and with enhanced professional stature and prospects in the bargain.
But how do medical associations get from here to there? How can an organization assemble and guide a cast of volunteers whose efforts produce such a result?
In fact, there are almost as many routes as there are organizations.
For most medical meeting planners, the key function of volunteers is to help determine course content and identify potential instructors. Oftentimes the's role expands to the business of contacting speakers, writing course materials, or even overseeing logistics.
To help volunteers succeed, it is important to make sure the volunteer is matched to the right job and to the necessary investment of time. To recruit people with the ability to do the jobs, accurate job descriptions should be formulated, and guidance and support provided.
Once-A-Year Relationships In some associations, the educational committee fulfills its responsibilities at a single meeting. At the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), for example, the seven-member Instructional Course Committee meets in April to do the initial planning for the coming annual meeting. AAOS staff provide attendee evaluations for each course presented at the previous annual meeting. "The committee decides if a course should be repeated or dropped, and they also rate new applications," says Kathie Niesen, CMP, manager of instructional courses and special projects. Other volunteers-the course coordinators-select speakers. Staff then contact the.
The American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) relies on its 12-volunteer Educational Advisory Committee (EAC) to determine content areas and rate suggested topics, which they do at a single meeting, says Tom Clark, director of professional affairs. (Until the recent naming of an education director, Clark held that title also.) The EAC also assembles at the group's two major meetings and provides on-the-spot evaluation.
In addition, ASCP has begun using volunteers-many of them EAC members-as speaker liaisons. Clark explains, "Relatively few speakers are knowledgeable about pharmacy for long-term care, which our members specialize in. But our members don't want to keep hearing the same speakers. The liaisons help develop new speakers by giving them an understanding of our association so that they can customize their presentations to our audience." One speaker liaison is assigned to each session, and not only grooms individual speakers but also coordinates presentations to minimize overlap.
Other associations give volunteers interim or on-site responsibilities. At the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for example, the Committee on Scientific Meetings determines meeting content and also selects faculty. "Volunteers then make the initial call to faculty members," says Suzanne Ziemnik, manager, CME programs. "This is their opportunity to convey the clinical aspects of speakers' involvement." Volunteers track calls using a two-part speaker-contact form; one copy goes to the staff, which sends confirmation letters. "Volunteers also review speakers' materials and our marketing pieces, and make recommendations for marketing activities," Ziemnik adds.
Long-Term Responsibilities In some associations the educational committee's responsibility is ongoing and broader in scope. For example, the 13 volunteer members of the American Dental Association's (ADA) Council on ADA Sessions and International Programs actively seek new speakers throughout the year. "We fund their attendance at additional meetings around the country so they can evaluate speakers," says associate executive director James H. Sweeney. "There are always new people on the speaking circuit."
According to James S. DeLizia, CAE, a consultant specializing in association issues, "The determination of what volunteers can and cannot do is relative to the organization's culture."
ADA is a case in point. Its council members work on both the scientific and member-oriented aspects of the annual meeting. That means they not only develop the program, choose the faculty, and oversee the technical exhibits, but also help with such logistical elements as shuttle service and registration.
Developing continuing education programs is but one of ten formally stated duties and responsibilities of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists' 90-member Commission on Continuing Education (CCE). Among the others: Act as director or faculty member in continuing education courses, and recruit new directors; write a case study for the Society's self-study program, or recruit someone else to write one; and represent the society's members in planning educational activities-which involves needs assessment.
"This is not just a token position," says Kathy J. Mauck, vice president, educational programs. "We want people who will spend some time identifying the CME needs of pathologists."
Qualifying Volunteers To ensure that volunteers can carry out their responsibilities effectively, associations seek individuals with appropriate professional and personal qualifications. The American Society of Clinical Pathologists explicitly requires that a CCE member be "an outstanding scientist, preferably one who is recognized nationally in the subject field" and "have significant successful prior experience in CCE activities, especially as a workshop and/or seminar director or faculty member." The written qualifications also state that the individual "must have indicated an interest" in joining the CCE and "must be able to devote appreciable time and effort" to its activities.
Professional expertise is the chief consideration for all associations. But the ADA requires other expertise and experience as well, says Sweeney. "We look for people with a meeting planning background, who have a knowledge of volunteer programs and have demonstrated their commitment by being involved with the organization at the local or state level."
"Works well with others," a social skill that we all remember from our grade school report cards, is just as important for adult professionals on a prestigious organizing committee. Thus, in addition to professional competence and commitment, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) seeks volunteers who are "comfortable in their own sphere of expertise and comfortable with letting others work within their spheres," says Christine Donnell, director of meetings.
Another concern is balanced representation. To ensure that its EAC represents its total membership, says Clark at ASCP, "We want geographical diversity, and a mix of male and female, business and clinical people, some with a regulatory background, and people from a variety of practice settings."
ADA, meanwhile, ensures geographic diversity by establishing a rotation so that its 13 council members equitably represent its 16 national districts. And Ziemnik at AAP says that the academy uses a "complex nominating process to be sure that the membership is represented demographically and by expertise."
Coaching The Experts Volunteers are experts in their own fields. But when it comes to planning meetings, they generally need some explanation of the process and their place in it.
At AAP, the staff-committee relationship is very much a partnership. "They're the content experts," Ziemnik says of the committee. "Our role is to take them through the process. We explain educational design-how to assess needs and set objectives. The committee decides on potential content, and we work together on format."
ADA has one of the most structured programs. Its committee members, who are elected by the board of trustees, serve four-year terms. Once a committee is assembled, the staff conducts a one-day orientation session for the new members. "We talk about their responsibilities and the procedures, and we set their deadlines," says Sweeney. They also receive a large manual covering those same topics.
A different approach is taken by the Healthcare Financial Management Association. All national programs are handled by the staff. But local chapters are totally volunteer-run. Consequently, "We do quite a bit of training," says chief operating officer Thom Freyer. Most chapters hold three or four multiday conferences per year, produced by the program committee, whose members do everything from program design, speaker selection, and development of marketing brochures to making name badges and handling on-site registration.
To assist individuals who handle educational programs, says Freyer, "We provide training in developing topics, speaker bureau information, and registration software that ties in with national." Because that committee also handles logistics, "We even have a session onwith
Tense Moments It's obvious that these volunteer committees are vital. Staff couldn't live without them. But can they live with them?
Yes-but it does get a little tense when volunteers miss deadlines. "Most of our volunteers are tremendously dedicated," says Mauck. "But lateness is increasingly a problem simply because people are getting busier. We deal with people individually to try to get them motivated, but it can be very difficult. We start by asking what we can do to help. Then we gently remind them of their commitments to the 'paying customers'-the members."
Another source of occasional conflict is "the tug of war between staff expertise and volunteers' expertise," says Donnell at AACC. "Volunteers sometimes try to assume responsibilities they're not qualified to handle."
If such a conflict occurs, she says, "a staff person sits down with the committee chair and says, 'This is how I'd like to work with you.' We let them know that the logistic expertise lies here."
"It helps to have volunteers who respect you for your position in your profession," adds the AAOS's Niesen.
What's In It For Them? Why do physicians volunteer? For many, participation is its own reward. "Sometimes the type of recognition is actually the reason the member volunteered," says Patricia A. Siegel, CAE, a principal of Siegel & Associates, which provides special support services to associations. "The person wanted exposure to other members, or wanted to be seen as a contributor or someone who cares about the profession. Membership organizations have incredible potential to help their membership achieve personal and professional fulfillment."
Furthermore, they gain visibility within their profession. AAOS, for example, includes volunteers' pictures in its brochures.
Serving on an influential committee adds to volunteers' credentials. "Most physicians see it as something to put on their C.V.," says Ziemnik at AAOS.
Committee members also benefit by suggesting topics that they themselves would like to see on the program. And, says Ziemnik, "They get ideas which can be helpful in their own institutions."
Some associations give their volunteers even more. ACC opens its general session with a slide presentation acknowledging volunteers' contributions. The American Society of Clinical Pathologists presents its CCE members with a Distinguished Service Award-an inscribed pewter plate. "But so much of the recognition is subtle," says Mauck. "Their names are announced when they join the committee, and they are thanked publicly when they finish their term. And the committee members are permitted to attend the faculty hospitality suite and network.
"The volunteers do a tremendous amount of work for us," she says. "We marvel at the time and energy they put in on behalf of the society and the participants. Hopefully their efforts do-bottom line-improve the quality of patient care.
In the last two years, the Illinois Home Care Council has changed the role of its education committee, the membership criteria, the recruitment process, and even the committee name.
"When I joined the council, we probably didn't have the best capabilities for meeting planning and implementation," says executive director Michael Kulczycki. "Our volunteers were more involved in logistics than theme and format." Kulczycki decided to outsource the logistics-now handled by Host Meetings & Events-and add staff to focus on education. "That enabled us to transition the volunteers into a more appropriate role," he says.
The volunteers now select educational presentations, help evaluate potential speakers, and review suggestions for recruiting exhibitors.
With new responsibilities come new qualifications, says Kulczycki. "For volunteers to be effective, they should meet one of two criteria. Either they should have experience as educators, or they should be top decision-makers with the budget to attend meetings outside the state."
Attending such meetings gives them broader access to industry literature and speakers.
In addition to reinventing the Education/Conferences Committee, the council increased its efforts to obtain, and respond to, member evaluations. The payoff has been impressive. "The results," says Kulczycki, "have been a 40 percent growth in exhibits, a 30 percent to 40 percent growth in meeting attendance, and significant growth in the profitability of the program."