Managing the administrative work necessary to keep members of the Virginia Society of Rheumatologists (VSR) active and engaged was proving a challenge for volunteer rheumatologists balancing their society activities with busy practice schedules.
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After attending several other state society meetings and talking to society leaders about the value of creating an executive director role, VSR President Neil Sullivan, MD, and VSR board member Harry Gewanter, MD, FAAP, MACR, agreed outside support was necessary to better connect rheumatologists and allied health providers through a better rheumatology society in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“You don’t really know you need an executive director until you have one and see what can be done better to achieve a new level of education, connectivity and advocacy on behalf of the rheumatology community in your state,” says Dr. Gewanter.
Making the Decision
In October 2017, Dr. Gewanter and Dr. Sullivan formally proposed to the VSR board the concept of hiring an executive director. “We knew our society could be more than a group coming together for an educational meeting,” Dr. Gewanter shares.
After weighing the pros and cons and discussing the right fit needed for an executive director, the VSR board decided to seek support from the Richmond Academy of Medicine Services Corporation, an organization that supports many other Virginia specialty practice societies and is engaged with the Medical Society of Virginia, an important voice for physician concerns, Dr. Gewanter says.
Starting this past May, Elizabeth Schroeder Craig of the Richmond Academy of Medicine Services Corporation hit the ground running as the VSR’s first executive director.
Tackling Society Operations Challenges
Ms. Craig says an executive director for a state society functions best when the position is tailored to meet specific needs, such as managing the board, setting up meetings, ensuring bylaws are being followed and supporting the volunteer physician leaders in setting and achieving optimal goals for society activities. She attributes 32 years of strong leadership and dedicated service from VSR members to making it possible for the society to hire an executive director.
Her first order of business with the VSR has been to organize and enhance email communication to better ensure current and future VSR members are receiving all the information they need to engage with the society. She launched a quarterly newsletter for the VSR and is providing the administrative support for the VSR’s upcoming annual meeting, to be held Sept. 21–23, and for the society’s 2019 and 2020 meetings.
“In my short time with the VSR, we have been able to put new structure in place for society communications and add a new level of connection with fellows, allied health professionals and more rheumatologists to take part in a very robust educational agenda for our annual meeting,” Ms. Craig explains.
Through regular communications now reaching more society members, Ms. Craig is also focused on achieving the vision of Dr. Sullivan, Dr. Gewanter and the VSR board to ramp up state advocacy efforts through grassroots activities with Virginia legislators.
“Knowledge is power when it comes to advocacy,” Ms. Craig acknowledges. “By providing our society members with the latest updates from the ACR and state legislators about proposed legislation that impacts rheumatology, we can create a stronger voice at a state level to ensure the rheumatology perspective is heard—the stronger the voice, the better chance our advocacy efforts have of informing critical decisions in our state.”
Dr. Gewanter adds, “we know that when rheumatologists speak up and connect with other specialties to share concerns about legislation impacting our practice, it most certainly makes a difference—but we have to be organized to do it.”
With Ms. Craig at the helm, Dr. Gewanter says the VSR board is looking forward to bringing a greater sense of connection to rheumatologists across Virginia, something he sees as essential to helping the rheumatology community thrive.
To other state society leaders across the country who are considering executive director leadership, Dr. Gewanter suggests candid conversation about what is slipping through the cracks and where society leaders can focus their efforts to advance society education, advocacy and increased collegiality to support fellow rheumatologists in their practices. “Admittedly, there will be increased initial costs, [but] the long-term benefits are worth the investment.”
Carina Stanton is a freelance science journalist based in Denver.