It helps to remember that we hold the key to the health of our patients, a point that was driven home at this year’s AAFP National Conference of Constituency Leaders.
I often hear that this conference is the heartbeat of the Academy, the place where key issues are tackled with an emphasis on change. Each chapter is invited to send representatives from constituencies historically underrepresented in AAFP leadership: women; minorities; new physicians; international medical graduates (IMGs); and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) physicians and those who support GLBT issues.
This conference, which coincides with the Academy’s Annual Chapter Leader Forum (ACLF), serves as a platform for innovation and policy transformation within our organization. Energy pulses throughout three jam-packed days, and new leaders emerge. Friendships are made. Connections are strengthened. Morales are boosted.
In this environment, those lurking goblins that once held us back in our practices are stifled by the web of our dreams as leaders in our specialty and the health care system.
Looking at the more than 200 participants in this year’s conference, I was struck by the image of the dream catcher. In Native American tradition, this circular web of natural materials hangs above a sleeping area where the morning light can hit it. The dream catcher attracts dreams to its web. Bad dreams do not know the way through the web and get caught — then, the first light of day causes them to melt away and perish. Good dreams go through the center of the web and slide down to the sleeper below.
In today’s medicine, we are the dream catchers. We, as family physicians, are a mixture of different media held together by the bond of providing excellent care to keep our health system focused on what matters. Just as the web of the dream catcher captures dreams and channels the ones with purpose to its beholder, we consider policy and reformations to enact change within our Academy and beyond. Through more than 60 resolutions at NCCL, delegates voted their consciences on topics such as payment, transgender care, burnout, student debt, and parental leave.
The role of a dream catcher is not simply to ward off malignant thoughts or dreams. More importantly, dream catchers propel those they watch over to an improved reality. This is the exciting aspect of NCCL. It is a place where our Academy has invested resources that enable underrepresented constituencies to suggest policies that directly affect us and the people we serve. It is a way to bring new leadership into the organization and help current leaders refine their skills.
The vision of diversity in leadership is a recurrent theme at the conference. As important as it is to create a space for budding leaders to emerge, it is equally important that we in leadership, on both the state and national levels, be deliberate in our attempts to recruit leaders from diverse backgrounds. There is nothing more beautiful than to see the creative exchange of ideas from people of diverse cultures, backgrounds, practice types and roles. This is how dreams evolve into reality.
Another important theme that resounds in the conference is the interconnectivity of social determinants of health and health outcomes. We understand that our patients live within a context that is uniquely their own. Without basic provisions such as transportation, adequate access to food, a stable home environment and safe schools, the families for whom we care cannot focus on their health. We know this innately, but we as an organization have been challenged, in part through venues like NCCL, to put meat to this understanding. It was through the persistence of resolutions adopted at NCCL that stances on childhood obesity, transgender care and protection of physician autonomy germinated. These resolutions guide our Academy to dig deeper into the issues and form evidence-based opinions that can further empower our members. More importantly, we are reminded that we are accountable for treating our patients within their unique contexts.
So vision and accountability stem from an electric gathering of people from all over the country. I would also contend that hope and joy abide in this space! What better way to combat burnout than to come and work for improvement alongside equally passionate individuals?
I am thankful that our Academy invests in its future through conferences such as NCCL. The AAFP pays airfare or mileage for each chapter to send a new physician delegate in addition to three other individuals attending NCCL or ACLF. I hope to see all chapters represented next year, when the conference is held April 27-29 in Kansas City, Mo. I promise you it will be time well spent among the dream catchers.
There are two more AAFP events this year where members can help shape Academy policy. The National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students is July 28-30 in Kansas City, Mo. The Congress of Delegates is Sept. 19-21 in Orlando, Fla.
Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, M.D., is the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors.
From AAFP Leader Voices Blog: http://blogs.aafp.org/cfr/leadervoices/
PS: CAFP bids fond farewell (not good-bye) to Marie-Elizabeth and her family, who leave Mt. Shasta this month to head for Hollis, New Hampshire and a new practice. Dr. Ramas is the AAFP Board’s New Physician member and has been a terrific advocate for the concerns of early career physicians. CAFP wishes her, her husband, Ray, and their three children all the best.