Each July, the ACR Committee on Nominations, chaired by the ACR’s immediate past president, meets to recommend candidates to fill upcoming vacancies on ACR committees, the ACR and REF boards, and the slate of officers. At the same meeting, the committee selects the recipients of the various ACR awards and the new group of ACR Masters.
This is no small task. The Committee on Education, for example, attracted 69 candidates this year for three open positions. The selection of new Masters and award recipients involves scrutiny of dozens of CVs and detailed nomination letters. This year, members of the Nominations Committee had a significant homework assignment for the weeks preceding the meeting—about 4,000 pages of reading.
The selection of the Masters is especially difficult. Any ACR member who is 65 or older at the time of the annual meeting is eligible, and the number of distinguished and deserving candidates is far greater than the allotted 15 slots (stretched to 16 this year). Masters can be selected based on contributions in research, clinical care, and/or professional service, and comparisons of candidates whose career emphasis has been very diverse is highly subjective. The current Nominating Committee hopes that several candidates who were not chosen this year will be selected in the future. What is clear is that designation as a Master of the ACR is a highly prized and sought after honor.
What’s more important for most members, however, is to understand how to become a participant in ACR activities. Some eager volunteers who do not get selected write to the ACR office to express their disappointment and (occasionally) ask for advice. As a member of the Nominating Committee and its chair for 2009, I have a few suggestions.
1. Don’t volunteer for everything: It may be hard to fathom, but some members volunteer for every committee, the REF and the ACR boards, and each officer position—simultaneously! In such circumstances, the Nominations Committee might be forgiven for concerns about a potential lack of focus. I suggest that you select a maximum of three possible positions for which to indicate your interest. Pick the roles that would allow you to contribute your special skills, talents, and experience that the ACR ought to want and need. Explain how your prior activities have equipped you to be of value.
2. Get letters of recommendation from colleagues or mentors who have held positions in the ACR: The Nominations Committee comprises a finite number of people who collectively know lots of ACR members, but far from all of them. The committee does reflect the professional diversity of the ACR—rheumatologists and allied health professionals, academic researchers and those in private practice, pediatric and adult rheumatologists—but we still need help in getting to know you.
3. Show your interest in the ACR by volunteering for activities that don’t involve the nominations process: Participate in an advocacy day in Washington, D.C. The ACR will foot the bill for your travel expenses and you might be able to sway a member of congress to support your position on a key piece of legislation. Become active in your state rheumatology organization and help it to join our new Affiliate Society Council. Get involved with the REF as a link to patients who may want to support cutting-edge research and training of new rheumatologists. You’ll get noticed as a leader and a doer, someone who needs to be placed on an ACR committee.
4.Don’t give up if you aren’t selected the first time you volunteer: There are more qualified members who want to help the ACR than there are positions. And, undoubtedly, the Nominations Committee makes mistakes from time to time by failing to select ideal candidates for open slots. Plan to re-apply the next year, and feel free to talk to ACR staff or volunteers about how to bolster or clarify your credentials.
5. Realize that you have to crawl before you walk: A position as an ACR officer is not a realistic initial assignment for a new volunteer. More often you will start as a member of a subcommittee or task force, then a member of one or two of the standing committees. Every three years one member of a committee moves up to serve as its chair. Some, but not all, of the outgoing chairs take seats on the ACR board. Officers have typically had numerous prior assignments in the ACR (and often also the REF), and have had to prove their ability, versatility, teamwork, and perseverance.
ACR Elections Explained
Some ACR members wonder why ACR officers aren’t selected through contested elections, as in some other professional organizations. I’ve even heard one member compare the ACR leadership to the former Soviet Politburo. However, it is truly a valid question that deserves a thoughtful answer. One advantage of our current system is that it attracts leaders who would rather function as a team, following a group-driven agenda rather than a personal mission. We polled the current officers as to whether they would have run for an ACR office if it meant opposing one of their colleagues, and not one would have done so. A second advantage is the ability to provide a consistent mix of academics and practitioners on the leadership team, who collectively possess the broad range of skills that we need to tackle the myriad tasks of the ACR. Third, the ACR staff much prefers the current system; it allows them to plan well into the future without the risk of u-turns in direction on an annual basis.
But has this system of avoiding contested elections really served us well? One compelling argument that it has indeed done so is that rheumatology is one of the only subspecialties of internal medicine in which the researchers and clinicians—and also the allied health professionals—have remained united in a single national organization, rather than split into polarized and competing subgroups. In addition, we have been able to attract talented staff members who remain with the ACR for many years and whose roles are carefully balanced with the work of the volunteer leadership and ACR members. Working effectively together is surely the right thing to do for our profession and our patients.
Dr. Fox is president of the ACR. Contact him via e-mail at [email protected].