Strategies for Developing a Successful State Neurological Society: Lessons from Florida

Advocacy in Action

January 10, 2008

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This is part of a series of articles from physicians who are leading efforts to advocate for their patients and their profession at the local, state, and national level.

By Michael F. Finkel MD, FAAN
President, Florida Society of Neurology, 2005-2007
Author Disclosure

The Florida Society of Neurology (FSN) was founded in 1968. However, by 2000 it was a much contracted organization, with token membership among Florida neurologists and very low meeting attendance. The FSN Board of Directors began a review of the organization to reverse this trend. Happily, this coincided with the AAN’s initiative to build stronger state societies through collaboration with the newly formed State Affairs Committee (SAC), which provided advice and support.

Based on key observations, the Board developed the following strategy to reinvigorate the FSN as an effective specialty society with a statewide base. These strategies have produced excellent results during the ensuing seven years:

  1. Sharpen the focus and purpose of the FSN
  2. Improve meeting attendance and effectiveness
  3. Reform our Board practices to improve organizational function
  4. Enhance relationships with other state medical specialty societies.

1. Sharpen the focus and purpose of the FSN

The FSN Board began by talking to our constituent neurologists around the state. We found that many Florida neurologists, both academic and private, did not know each other, had no sense that neurologists had coherent interests in the state, and were not interested in traveling to meetings that rotated around the state.

2. Improve meeting attendance and effectiveness

As President, I asked our Board members to reassess the type of meeting we offered our members. The Board decided that having a smaller version of an AAN meeting was not effective in generating interest in the meeting among Florida’s 800-plus neurologists. There were competing events (usually pharmaceutical supported lecture dinners and other educational events in the home cities) that allowed a local venue for CME, and at no cost to the participant.

3. Reform our Board practices to improve organizational function

We sought advice and support from the AAN, which runs a successful society and has successful meetings, as to what might be effective options for our society. The SAC decided to support meetings of state societies at the AAN Annual Meetings, since this was a place where state neurologists were already clustered and away from the demands of their offices and families. This brought a significant number of new attendees, many of whom wanted to develop an effective society. We listened to our attendees, and invited those with passion to join the Board of Directors.

Second, we diversified the Board’s membership to include younger academic neurologists from our many state teaching programs, while also including private neurologists from around the state. The balance between academic practice, private practice, and geography has been carefully nurtured to be reflective of the entire state’s neurologists. There are fixed terms of service, thus requiring us to recruit, train, and retain our successors.

4: Enhance relationships with other state medical specialty societies

A variety of tactics have been employed to promote these priorities, including:
  • Teaching neurology to non-neurologists at our annual meeting
  • Developing The Florida Neuroalliance (a collaborative effort by the FSN with representatives of patient and family support societies) for patients and families with neurological diseases
  • Dividing our Board into work groups to focus on key priorities
  • Holding joint meetings with specialty societies that share common patients

A full list of our meeting and intersociety-relations strategies is available.

Conclusion

In summary, each state neurological society will face different challenges. The Board of Directors needs to conduct a hard analysis of current strategies, and decide what to keep and what to change. A more inclusive society and meeting offers greater opportunities for effective meetings and for stronger advocacy. Early involvement of neurologists in training will diversify the viewpoints of the organization and give training in advocacy for the specialty.

Disclosure

Dr. Finkel has nothing to disclose.