Rejuvenate yourself by attending an ACP chapter meeting
Editor's note: William J. Hall, FACP, Chair of ACP's Board of Governors writes this month for CollegeWatch. The President's Column will return next month.
I was recently completing an informational form that asked me to identify my profession. This request is becoming less and less common, since I am usually asked to specify what sort of "health care provider" I consider myself. It led me to consider what we profess when we describe our profession as internal medicine and the implications of that declaration.
There is abundant literature describing the defining characteristics of a learned profession. Three essential characteristics are frequently cited. First, professions emerge around a distinct body of common knowledge, standards and values that need to be defined, renewed and expanded. Second, the members of a profession characteristically perform a service or services primarily for the benefit of others and to a lesser extent to achieve personal gain. Third, and perhaps of greatest significance, members of any worthy profession recognize a responsibility to provide sustenance, renewal and opportunities for development to their fellow members.
In the College, we pay attention to the first two of these characteristics through Annual Session, MKSAP, our premier journals and other educational programs. Maintaining the third characteristic of our profession—literally, the care and feeding of each other—is a much less tangible activity. It is the one I would like to discuss, because I feel I have learned more about the life-sustaining aspect of the College in the past six months as Chair of the Board of Governors than in my almost 30 years of previous membership.
Fellowship and renewal
I have had the unusually fulfilling opportunity to be in frequent touch with elected ACP Governors throughout the country, in part to discuss one of the most critical responsibilities of our Governors: chapter meetings. I have also had the pleasure of attending some of these meetings and in the process have met some of the most interesting and impressive professionals in the world: ACP Members and Fellows.
I have concluded that the chapter meeting is the centerpiece of our profession's efforts to sustain and renew ourselves. Increasingly, these meetings are shying away from the expert-lecture approach to a mute, somnolent, sheep-like audience. Instead, they emphasize opportunities for communication with other members. For many of us, these meetings are the only opportunity to experience the emerging diversity of our membership, to meet the newest members of our profession at medical student and Associates programs, and to celebrate the achievements of our most accomplished and respected colleagues through the Laureate Award programs.
In the final analysis, however, perhaps the major reason for attending chapter meetings is simply to be there, to escape for at least a few hours into a private sanctuary of the profession for renewal, fellowship and celebration of the values and ideals we penned so earnestly on long-forgotten applications to medical school. It is a time-honored activity that would have been familiar to Hippocrates, and I find myself in awe of the talent, humanity and immense capacity to do good among the physicians I meet at these meetings.
The College's 'very essence'
I am increasingly attracted to the question-and-answer sessions at these meetings, where you experience the very essence of the College. After considerable practice, I've learned to scan the room and predict—on the basis of their emotional energy—who is going to ask the insightful questions or provide the seminal observation based on real-life experience. Sometimes it will be a young woman with an infant in tow, other times it is a graying, self-effacing solo practitioner, and sometimes it is a young student barely able to contain her enthusiasm.
The common denominator for all of us is the sense of sheer joy in celebrating the profession. (We come back to that word again.) This enthusiasm is incredibly infectious, and soon others who never dreamed they would get up to speak at a public meeting are lining up at the microphone. When Laureate Awards are given, more often that not there are tears of pride and a sense of professional accomplishment, not only from the recipients, but also among the audience.
These are almost sacred moments, and the opportunity to share such emotion is almost nonexistent outside of this venue. In terms more appropriate perhaps to what I consider less accurately named professions such as athletics or entertainment, we are all "in the zone" for a short while. Internists leave the meeting with a sense of the tradition of the College, enthused by wisdom provided by the amalgam of youth and experience, and rejuvenated by pride in what were are doing with our lives. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
You need no reminder that we are living in one of our profession's most troubled times, where the very essence of how we value ourselves, even the way we describe ourselves as professionals, is being called into question. Pressures even begin to put barriers between groups of internists who have enjoyed collegial relationships for decades.
Daniel Goldman, in his recent book, "Emotional Intelligence," makes the point that the qualities marking individuals who excel in real life are character, altruism and a capacity to care about others. Lack of emotional intelligence can sabotage the intellect and ruin careers. The chapter meeting represents to me the best way to develop and improve our emotional intelligence while not in the least ignoring our intellectual needs.
In the final analysis, what really binds our profession together is not our common financial interests, nor even the body of knowledge we so meticulously develop, but the shared experiences we all go through in our professional lives, long or short, and the way we have incorporated these experiences into our values. So, the next time you receive the chapter meeting notice, don't throw it away with the other hundred or so CME notices you have received that day, but mark the date on your calendar as you would a family anniversary or important religious event and be there. If you are already a veteran and perennial participant, one of the greatest gifts and honors you can give to a valued colleague is to extend a personal invitation to the meeting. You owe it to your profession.
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