Our Generation: Where have all the young physicians gone?

July 1, 2005

The future of organized medicine depends upon an ongoing stream of active participants and leaders. Without membership, our professional organizations can't function or grow. The insights and viewpoints of younger physicians are vital as a complement to the experience of more seasoned physicians in shaping the future of the specialty.

The future of organized medicine depends upon an ongoing stream of active participants and leaders. Without membership, our professional organizations can't function or grow. The insights and viewpoints of younger physicians are vital as a complement to the experience of more seasoned physicians in shaping the future of the specialty.

Leadership qualities, a strong education, and commitment to service are key to the success of physicians. As undergraduates, virtually all of us were involved with service organizations and our idealism about specific causes drove us to participate. Hundreds of medical students attend national meetings of groups such as the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), and their local meetings, too, are well-populated. At that point in their careers, aspiring physicians are full of energy and enthusiasm about their chosen career paths and no cause seems too insignificant to champion. I remember being impressed by the amazing colleagues I met through medical student organizations and with whom I shared a common vision.

And then something happens. In residency, time becomes a scarce commodity. The focus is on survival rather than shaping the future of health care. And the one question that is always being raised at organization meetings is "How do we get more physicians involved?" If you're a resident, attending a meeting means changing calls, asking for favors, and working that much harder on the days leading up to and following the meeting.

Whatever your situation, I urge you not to rely upon others to shape your future. I know that for many young physicians, a new practice, family constraints, and the new-found freedom after residency often take precedence over organized medicine on the "to do" list. But the need for your involvement cannot be overstated.

The future of medicine is under constant assault from legislators, health insurance organizations, and attorneys, to name but a few factions. More importantly, change takes time and the issues being addressed today may not have their full impact for many years to come. The time to get involved is when you are young and we must make sure that young physicians are at the table when policy is set.

How do you do that? Choose one organization and get involved. You can't be expected to take an active role in every group, but you can commit to one, whether that is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, or a group on the state or county level. (ACOG recently made a commitment to placing young physicians on all national committees and has recently added two seats to the Executive Board specifically to represent the interest of young physicians.) Join a committee or just attend a meeting; getting involved doesn't mean you have to run the group. Start slowly and increase your involvement as time permits.

During residency, I attended an ACOG Junior Fellow District meeting and was "recruited" to help with the Connecticut Section. That was my intro, and since then I have had the privilege of serving on several ACOG committees as well as serving as the Chair of the Junior Fellow College Advisory Council. ACOG is a wonderful organization that has a great history of involving young people.

I strongly believe that when you commit to becoming a physician, you commit to a profession. Our profession is constantly under attack and our medical societies are spending countless hours protecting it. Doing your part is not just about writing a check for your dues. It means rekindling the enthusiasm you once had about organizations during your undergraduate and medical school days.