excerpt from October 2020 Heartbeat
Your Alaska State Medical Association is dependent on you. I use the term “your” purposefully as ASMA is fundamentally tied to physician membership. As an organization representing all physicians across our great state it is the destination for information, debates, guidance, support, and constant advocacy for Alaska’s doctors. A robust organization with large numbers of engaged members flourishes in a cooperative manner to the hoped-for benefit of all. Poor member engagement be it financial, or a lack of interest, or lack of time investment leads to a weak organization unable to nimbly react to the relentless obstacles facing the medical community. Those obstacles continue to grow. Unfortunately, the ranks of our membership have dwindled in recent years.
Much like Alaska itself our economics have become increasingly challenging over the last years. In the past the economy of Alaska was robust. There was funding available for health care, education, public services, and infrastructure. We have all witnessed the drastic reductions levied in recent years. The health care sector has certainly seen a downturn in economics. Perhaps this is a significant reason for
the drop in membership for our state association. We have certainly heard from physicians who have said they simply can’t afford it. Especially when competing with all the other associations, subscription services, and organizations you either must be a member of or feel it is more important than joining ASMA. Then there is the question of value. Just what is it that I am getting for my hard-earned dollars?
These are good questions with understandable concerns. Who among us has the time and energy to scrutinize the myriad legislative policies emanating from Juneau? We do. With help from our lobbyist keeping his finger on the pulse of Juneau’s activities we are well informed when potentially threatening policies are presented. Our years of engagement has allowed us to build significant relationships providing opportunities for open discussion and education with lawmakers from all branches of the political spectrum. Having a person on the ground meeting lawmakers and their teams in person (socially distant and with a mask on) is critically important. For as a colleague of mine said years ago, “if you are not at the table then you are on the menu”. When significant litigation is in the court system, we have worked with attorneys over the years providing support with amicus briefs or additional opinions. This type of physician support in the legal arena is both critical and requires funding. Without membership we lose funding. Without funding we lose insight, opportunity, and the valuable knowledge that allows us to engage effectively.
The Physicians Health Committee run through ASMA is a program providing a much needed helping hand to physicians in need. The PHC’s purpose is to provide a facilitation to physicians whose functioning has been impaired to receive assistance and thereby restore function. Over the years the PHC has helped dozens of Alaskan physicians improve their lives while continue to provide a safe medical practice. Without ASMA the PHC would be in jeopardy, leaving a serious gap in the care of physicians in need. With the added stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic the potential need for PHC services is greater than ever. We need the PHC.
As coronavirus arrived in Alaska earlier this year ASMA set up a 24-hour hotline to provide much needed information regarding this new disease. Working in close cooperation with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services the COVID-19 hotline provides a resource for Alaskan physicians with questions from transportation, to understanding state mandates, to clinical coordination ideas, and references to other materials, physicians with additional expertise, or state resources. The ASMA COVID-19 hotline has provided countless hours of support to hundreds of physicians these past months.
Closer to home, we have listened to the concern of cost by significantly dropping our dues for the coming year. We have also tightened our own belt at the association with substantial cost cutting wherever possible. Of course, lower dues mean fewer dollars. Less resources to accomplish the tasks at hand. As well as the next task coming down the lane. This issue can be overcome with greater membership, but that is up to you. We have heard from several members that these are welcome moves making membership easier. I hope you think so as well.
However, there is more to it than that. With thousands of physicians in Alaska, when our membership sits at only 332 members, it suggests a larger problem. A lack of interest, of understanding what ASMA does, an apathy surrounding yet another organization wanting your dollars, the thought that others will pull the weight, or perhaps the dreaded “not my job” reasoning. It does not matter if you are in primary care or a specialist, ASMA needs you and you need ASMA. In the past there has been the impression that ASMA is only for primary care, or if you ask another physician it only cares about the specialists. With the irony being of course that both statements are correct. Two sides of the same coin. ASMA cares for and works for all physicians in Alaska. The health of a community depends on all the physicians, techs, nurses, therapists, and other diverse workers in the health care field. As physicians your dedicated, local, independent Alaska State Medical Association is here for you. An organization for you made possible by you.
Together we are stronger, more capable, resilient, and able to face the challenges that come our way. So please continue with your support while encouraging others to join. Please don’t sit back thinking someone else will certainly join so I don’t need to. If everyone felt that way, then we would certainly be doomed. Instead I hope you agree that a strong state medical society is of vital importance to all Alaskans leading to a stronger, healthier community for all. If you are not yet a member please visit us at asmadocs.org and join today. If you are a member thank you for your continued support. And either way if you need us, please reach out.
Steve Sivils, DO, is a pediatric anesthesiologist in Anchorage and the president of the Alaska State Medical Association.