By Jonathan Nelson and Kathy McCarthy
For many years, a core group of dedicated family physicians have congregated twice each year at TAFP’s annual and interim meetings to sit on committees and conduct the business of the Academy. A frequent topic of discussion has always been how to attract more members to volunteer to serve in this capacity.
As it turns out, there are a finite number of family doctors you can fit around a table in a hotel conference room for a three-hour committee meeting. And there are only so many physicians who can make a three-year commitment to break away from their practices for a few days two times a year to attend those meetings.
A few years back, ideas began to percolate for new ways to engage members in the Academy’s work. In 2019 the board of directors appointed a task force to evaluate TAFP’s committee, commission, and section structure and make recommendations for change by November of 2020.
Then came COVID-19. Suddenly we were all logging in to Zoom meetings, setting up our home studios, and canceling in-person events. At TAFP headquarters and for the members of the Task Force on Governance, the writing was on the wall. We needed to leverage communication technology to engage more members in multiple ways to access their talent and expertise while using their time efficiently and effectively.
The task force commenced its work just as the novel coronavirus began to consume our thoughts and change our lives. As they examined the existing governance structure, they noticed that many of our committees were based on our staff departments. An evolved structure would be based on the three pillars of the strategic plan the Academy adopted in 2018: the health of the physician and the practice, the health of the patient and the population, and the health of the specialty and the organization.
They also considered the time commitment required of volunteers in the old structure. A survey of current and potential volunteers showed fewer than 30% were interested in multi-year, multi-meeting commitments, but more than 66% expressed interest in short-term opportunities. Almost 90% of current volunteers said they would be likely to engage in virtual meetings. The new structure would need to offer short-term opportunities to collaborate virtually on defined projects.
The task force had two perfect models for such project-oriented collaborations. They had their own project, which was conducted entirely on Zoom, and they had the example of the TAFP Behavioral Health Task Force.
As a result of our strategic plan objectives, the Academy pulled together a team of members with expertise in mental and behavioral health along with a few specialists from outside the Academy to identify ways to help primary care physicians integrate advanced behavioral health services into their practices. They were also tasked with building a toolkit of resources we could offer on the TAFP website. They began meeting in early 2019 via video conference and they used a secure cloud-based platform to contribute to the project. Within a matter of months, they had produced a valuable set of resources for members and nonmembers alike, and they had forged a collaborative network of colleagues who still ping one another with the occasional idea. Some of those members had not previously been that involved with the Academy’s committees and other groups, but now, they had made connections.
Task forces and work groups provide a new set of opportunities for members to engage, and by expanding our modes of communication, we can erase the barrier of distance across this vast state.
After several productive meetings and many draft proposals, the Task Force on Governance presented a new member engagement and governance plan to the board of directors in November, and the board voted to adopt it. We are implementing the plan now and you’ll soon begin receiving information on how you can get involved.
The future of TAFP governance and member engagement
The main feature of the new organizational structure is the set of three councils that report directly to the board of directors: the Council on Health of the Public and Science, the Council on Medical Practice, and the Council on Workforce and Member Engagement. Each council will include 14 active members plus one member of the board of directors, a resident member, and a student member. Active members will serve a two-year term with the opportunity to be reappointed once. The councils will meet in person at the annual and interim meetings, and will meet virtually at least a few times during the year.
Each council will also host a live forum open to all members during the annual and interim sessions. These forums are akin to a town hall meeting, at which the councils will report on their projects, discuss hot topics, entertain questions and discussion from the audience, and perhaps invite presentations by guests to benefit the Academy.
The Task Force on Governance envisioned a cycle that would provide ongoing dialog and feedback between the council and members attending the forums. Aided by that dialog, the councils will enlist participation in projects and initiatives that will be accomplished by task forces and work groups. Task forces will be formed to tackle specific projects, like planning a public health initiative or writing a resolution to the AAFP Congress of Delegates. Work groups will be assigned to carry out ongoing responsibilities, like CME planning and selecting award winners.
The councils will oversee the work of these teams, request board approval for anything that requires it, and report on their progress at the next live forum. The councils will also establish goals and objectives in their area of focus, plan the agenda for the forums, and provide guidance to TAFP staff.
Members will be able to volunteer for task forces and work groups at any time as those teams are created. You could sign up at a live forum, for example, or you might be recruited by a colleague or a council member. Also, the Academy has developed an enhanced member interest questionnaire and accompanying database, so when we need volunteers for a certain project, we will know whom to contact. Once this gets rolling, it could greatly expand the amount of work the Academy can accomplish and the number of members engaged in that work.
The existing standing committees of the Academy — the Finance Committee, the Nominating Committee, and the Bylaws Committee — will be retained and will continue to perform their business as usual. However, they will only schedule meetings as needed and will have the freedom to meet virtually.
The new plan introduces the concept of advisory groups, the membership of which would be determined by a physician’s position or office. These groups will advise the board and might assist the councils. For example, the existing Commission on Core Delegation will transition to the Delegation Advisory Group and will be comprised of the TAFP Board of Directors, members serving in elected and appointed positions with AAFP, TAFP’s representatives to the AAFP Congress of Delegates and the Texas Medical Association Interspecialty Society, and any members serving in the leadership of TMA. We will also have an Undergraduate Medical Education Advisory Group and a Graduate Medical Education Advisory Group, comprised of medical school faculty and residency and fellowship faculty.
“So what about our beloved sections?” you may be asking. Fear not! The plan calls for a new and elevated role for our old member community format, and our existing sections will transition to member communities to jumpstart what we believe will become a thriving network of dialog and activity. These groups will be free to meet virtually and at in-person meetings, if they choose, and they’ll be able to set their own agendas and be as active as they wish.
The most important component for the member communities will be an online discussion forum we’re calling TAFP Exchange. As 2020 winds to a close, we are in the process of developing this platform, which will allow members to explore and join communities, engage in dialog, share documents and resources, and meet new friends with similar interests and concerns. Initial communities will include research, maternity care, rural physicians, solo and small group practice physicians, early career physicians, and what we’ve known as the special constituencies, although they’re currently exploring a name change. And as we go, there’s no doubt more member communities will form as you and your colleagues discover a need.
The Task Force on Governance and the board hope these communities become the spawning grounds of great ideas as well as the Academy’s sensory organs where unexpected trouble is first detected. While the member communities like the advisory groups have no governance responsibility, members can petition the councils — and even the board of directors if the matter is urgent — with ideas and concerns. You can imagine those members then serving on task forces and work groups assigned to execute those ideas and address those concerns. We think exciting days are ahead for member communities, so watch for more information about TAFP Exchange and plan to join as many communities as you like.
“Sign me up! How can I get involved?”
Each year, you will have an opportunity to apply to serve on councils and committees. A screening committee of board members will make recommendations to the board of directors. We are accepting applications for the first appointments now, so if you are interested, complete this form.
As mentioned before, TAFP has developed an in-depth member interest form so we can learn more about you. We will use that information to invite you to join various member communities and to serve on task forces and work groups as needs arise. Once TAFP Exchange is up and running, explore your opportunities and join in on the discussions.
When the day comes on which we can gather again in person, be sure to attend the live forums where you can contribute to the conversations, volunteer for task forces and work groups, and meet new friends. And as always, give us a call or send us an email at TAFP headquarters — (512) 329-8666 or email@example.com — and we’ll point you in the right direction.
At TAFP, our hope is that this evolution will allow you more opportunities and multiple access points to make the most of your membership, and that it will help us save you time and provide you more of what you need. As an association, our greatest resource is you, the members. With your talents, expertise, drive, and desire, we can do amazing things to help you provide the best care possible for your patients and your communities. And we’ll have fun doing it!