My Professional Organization Needs Me and I Need It

By Robert J. Summerer, DO
SDSMA President

Membership in one’s professional organization is both a privilege and responsibility. It is a privilege because certain credentials must be attained to join, but one’s responsibility is supporting an organization that will advocate for the betterment of that occupation. The SDSMA is the voice for physicians in South Dakota wishing to participate in their profession. It is the guiding force behind legislation that affects both doctors and their patients. It serves as a resource to help physicians navigate the challenges of our profession. The SDSMA’s close ties with both the legislative and executive branches of our government give physicians access to the rule makers. More recently, the SDSMA has invested in the area of leadership development to better equip doctors to participate in their communities and work settings. This journal also provides an avenue for professional development for those involved in research and education.

The mission of the SDSMA is “To promote the art and science of medicine, protect and improve the health of the public, and advocate for the well-being of patients and the best environment for physicians to advance quality health care.” Although we may not realize it, the mission and accomplishments of the SDSMA affect us daily. It is easy to forget the impact of a professional organization as we conduct ourselves in our daily routines. As physicians, we often encounter difficult issues involving patient care, work environments, and even employment issues. Despite our focus on the major roadblocks, minor hassles, or even unwelcome impingement on our work, it’s important to realize that the work of organizations like the SDSMA has been an underlying factor in actually making it easier to practice medicine in South Dakota. The staff and the leadership of the SDSMA continue to work steadily to overcome the challenges that remain. Without our organizations, physicians are left to the devices of their employers, government officials, and possibly ill-informed public sentiment.

The values of our association are important to understand:

Professionalism. To preserve the noble tradition of the art and science of medicine.
Integrity. To promote integrity, trust, and uncompromised professional ethics.
Quality. To promote the delivery of high-quality patient care and service to citizens.
Physician-Patient Relationship. To defend the value of the medical profession and the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship.
Physician-Led Team-Based Care. To advocate for the primacy of the physician as leader in providing patient care.
Stewardship. To advocate for the responsible management of resources and fair reimbursement.
Inclusiveness. To value participation of all members and to respect diverse views and opinions.

The values of an organization are those things that make it relevant. They define the nature of the body of individuals it represents and what is important to them. These core beliefs are the defining tenants that direct action by the association. It is in keeping with the values that policy is created. This framework gives staff and leadership direction in communication with the public and governing bodies. Without these cohesive and consistent directives, the message of physicians would be disparate, and the public would not listen to our concerns. Indeed, there is strength and credibility in numbers. Being a SDSMA member affords an individual the benefits of being among those numbers.

In the spirit of professional development and networking with other members, new educational opportunities are now available. The SDSMA Health Leadership Institute is a notable avenue that is open to the members of the SDSMA to further develop their leadership skills. In a nutshell, the intent of the program is to develop the talents of physicians so that they can make an impact in their workplace and community in a fashion similar to the way the SDSMA impacts our state. The coursework is designed to be completed without adversely affecting one’s job. The first year’s cohort all had positive reports regarding the value of participating in this training.

The SDSMA has had to undergo some significant changes in maintaining membership over the last few years. Health system employers no longer find financial value in their physicians continuing to be members. We, as physicians, must recognize that being a part of the organization brings strength and vitality to our profession. Our agendas are often separate from those of our employers. Sometimes legislative bodies and rule makers need to be reminded of important health care concerns. The SDSMA cannot function as it has without a robust membership. I encourage you to consider the value of your membership in this important organization.