Director’s Corner: Time to join the committee?

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Signing up might not be that disruptive to your work-life balance.

Dear Director,


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I’m getting asked to sit on committees at the hospital and encouraged to join the local medical society.  I’ve been there several years and am really happy with my “work hard, play hard” life. Can I keep saying no?

Congratulations

I completely respect the work hard-play hard emergency physician.  Many of us went into this for the personal opportunities that come when you don’t work a 9 to 5 job.  On the other hand, if you find yourself regularly being asked to join a committee at work, congrats are in order.  It must mean that you’re a respected clinician that people enjoy being around.  When I’m a committee chair looking for members, I’m not asking people that no one likes or that will be a whiny pain in the butt.


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There are some valuable reasons to join a committee.  Hospital committee work takes care of the business of the medical staff ranging from providing oversight of clinical care and citizenship to credentialing and new medications and technology.  Committees are composed of physician staff members from all specialties who (generally) volunteer their time to keep the medical staff business in order.

If you’re in an academic model or are a hospital employee, you’re likely required to participate in a committee or some other administrative capacity. If you’re a contracted physician, whether in a single site democratic group or a national contract management organization, being a good hospital citizen and embedding emergency physicians in the fabric of the physician community enhances contract security.

WIIFM (What’s in it for me)

Joining a committee does not mean you need to stop traveling, training for your ultra-marathon or retire from your Bocce ball league.  More importantly, joining a committee may come with some actual benefits for you.  Many of us in administrative positions got involved because we wanted to be part of the solution.  Regardless of the committee, members are working on projects that directly or indirectly contribute to policies, procedures and patient care throughout the hospital.


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Joining a committee offers you a voice at the table to help identify problems, develop solutions and drive the agenda.  Also, as someone new to committee work, you may develop or learn new skills.  This could range from working on your own emotional intelligence to being tasked with developing a protocol to reverse life threatening bleeds secondary to NOACs.

We’ve all heard one of the secrets to preventing burnout is to diversify your work.  Sometimes, being on a committee will allow you to get outside of the emergency department to view concerns (cost of new requested medications reviewed in the Pharmacy and Therapeutics committee), expose you to the dirty laundry of recurrent bad outcomes (quality, M and M or clinical risk committees) or negative interactions of a surgeon repeatedly throwing instruments who needs counseling (citizenship committee).

There are obviously clinical committees as well (typically stroke, sepsis, STEMI, critical care, etc.) that need input to make sure quality and communication between departments are optimized.

One of my favorite aspects of being on a committee is getting to know the other members.  Growing professional relationships ultimately makes my job as an emergency physician easier because I’ve gotten to know these docs on a personal level, outside of the typical “calling for a consult” creating work for them level.  Regularly scheduled committee meetings usually involve a bit of small talk before or after the meetings. As you build rapport, you ultimately build trust, which will pay dividends when you need a little extra help in the ED.

I recently needed a stat phone consult from one of our cardiology groups.  I couldn’t immediately reach the on-call cardiologist.  But I have developed a friendship with another cardiologist in the same group through the years, spawned by years of sitting next to each other at a monthly committee meeting.  I texted him saying I couldn’t reach his partner and needed help.  He called right back.  Friendships build even quicker if your hospital sends members of a committee to a conference together.  I’ve had some great times attending surprisingly good CME events with hospital docs in resort areas and our med staff members have always returned as better friends than when we left.

An added benefit to joining a committee is getting to build your CV a bit.  While working shifts may be all you want now, there’s always the chance that you may want to do more in the future – such as an administrative role within your department, a leadership role within the hospital, or a position at the state or national level.  All the experience you build throughout your career has the potential to help you down the line.

Finally, through committee participation, you’re enhancing your value to the organization.  This helps your group stability and provides you or your director a little bit of political capital to expend on your behalf if there’s an issue.  I’ve spent this capital when I had a doc who was well known for their committee work run into an issue with his board recertification process.  Sometimes that can be a publicity nightmare for the department and result in a temporary suspension of privileges, yet when the physician has an excellent reputation and has been a valued member of a variety of committees, it’s easier to jump through the hoops to protect the doc and the department.

For Your Consideration

We live in a 24/7 world, so besides finding a committee that interests you, it’s also helpful to find a committee that works with your schedule.  There are typically committee meetings that can match anyone’s interests.  If you’re a techie or the EMR person, joining the hospital IT committee can work for you.  There’s plenty of clinical committees that need representatives. Most committees meet once a month and I am all in favor of having docs find a shift before or after the meeting that works for them.   Physician meetings are usually at early morning, lunch time, or at the end of the business day.  I’ve had 7:30 a.m. meetings and then worked 9 a.m. shifts and currently have a doc who does a Monday day shift which leads into his 5 p.m. credentialing meeting.

With our shift variation, we can usually combine a meeting with a shift, so it doesn’t add an extra day of commuting.  On the other hand, a committee like the Ethics Committee may meet on an ad hoc basis, requiring stat meetings to review ethical issues as patients are receiving care.  I have a couple of docs who are very interested and active on an Ethics Committee, but it clearly takes some commitment and flexibility to be available when the committee is needed.

Some committees require homework or preparation.  At the very least, you should be reviewing the committee packet ahead of time.  This is usually the minutes from the previous meeting and the discussion items.  Often, there may be some cases to review.  Certainly, if you’re representing the ED, you’ll need to know any ED issues inside and out.  But whether you’re reviewing sepsis or stroke misses or credentialing files, this is typically no more than an hour a month.

At the very least, you’ll be the emergency physician that other specialties will look to for guidance on ED issues and therefore you may be able to address issues regarding incorrect assumptions from other specialties about ED care.

One concern that some may have is that from time to time, you may be asked to review and provide a quality judgement on a colleague or a friend’s work. This can be stressful and possibly awkward, but peer review is almost always done by a committee and committees usually look for consensus prior to making any recommendations.  Therefore, you are rarely the “deciding vote” that changes a course of action for a colleague or friend, and of course, you could always recuse yourself from deliberations if there is a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Getting Involved

Every doc should be involved in a committee.  It’s a good way to enhance the group’s standing in the hospital and it’s a good way for the individual to see the hospital from beyond the ED. Joining local and state medical societies are great for networking and getting to know docs from outside the hospital.  Depending on your town and the size of your medical society, you may feel left out or be seen as not being a team player if you don’t join the local medical society.  Sometimes these are just dinner meetings and playing in an annual golf event. Other times, the medical society may have a larger volunteer purpose.

I’ve always felt that as ER docs, we spend more evenings and nights in the hospital than just about any other specialty, so I’ve become much more protective of this block of family time and find it harder to attend events that are primarily in the evening.  However, I’ve been involved with my state chapter of ACEP for over 20 years.  I’ve found the networking benefits to be huge.  Meetings bring together leaders from around the state and since we’re all fighting the same battles in our own hospitals (boarders, EMS diversion, psychiatric bed issues, etc..), I always learn something when I go to a meeting (and often feel better about my own situation).

Conclusion

Giving a little time to committee work at the hospital is good for your group and good for you personally.  It often leads to improved job satisfaction and a greater awareness of the hospital mission. Meetings can typically be scheduled around your clinical schedule.  Joining a committee does not mean you have to give back your “work to live” card, but it may mean you’re accepting some of the all-around professional responsibility that comes with being an emergency physician.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

EXECUTIVE EDITOR Dr. Silverman is Chairman of Emergency Medicine at the Virginia Hospital Center. He also serves as the Chief Performance Officer with Emergency Medicine Associates, a founding partner of Alteon Health. Dr. Silverman’s practical wisdom is available in an easy-to-use reference guide, available on Amazon. Follow on Twitter @drmikesilverman

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