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The Value of AMS Membership

In our May edition of the Journal, we explore what it means to be a member of the Arkansas Medical Society.  Now more than ever, physicians need an organization that will advocate and fight for them, their medical teams, and their patients.  If you’re a member, would you share with your non-member colleagues about why you joined?  With your help, we will continue to strengthen our ability and we will continue to represent the interests of every Arkansas physician!

The Value of AMS Membership

Stacy Zimmerman, MD, FACP FAAP, has been the internal medicine residency program director for Unity Health in Searcy for the past four years. Before that, she owned a rural clinic, where she practiced internal medicine and pediatrics for 14 years. An AMS member since 2003, she reflects on her decision to enter primary care and remain on the front lines of medicine.

Like many of her colleagues, Dr. Zimmerman cites family members’ illnesses as a profound influence on her career path. However, there were other drivers that factored into her pursuing medicine – factors she shares with fellow physicians. “It goes deeper than just a pivotal event in one’s life,’” she said. “If you look at commonalities among early-career physicians, you’ll find a desire to help others as caretakers and a determination to become a lifelong learner.”

She believes it takes more than the basic desire to help heal others, however. Physicians must also learn to maintain career satisfaction. For contentment, advocacy, and continued growth in her field, Dr. Zimmerman turns to her physician community for support. Specifically, she turns to the Arkansas Medical Society. “The sense of community is perhaps the greatest value of my AMS membership,” she explained. “A physician’s learning environment is socially staged during medical school and residency. We round in teams, collaborate with ancillary and consult services, and learn in group environments. Residents are so excited to leave residency only to later realize that in the world outside of academics, we practice in more isolated environments.

“When I left residency, I experienced professional loneliness within a few years of private practice. I felt the need to reconnect to a medical community for collegial support and social fellowship. AMS fills this need by providing a community network for me. I have found that I am much happier navigating through a fragmented health care system when I can routinely connect with peers who deal with the same frustrations.” ‘A sense of community is one of the many essential values provided with AMS membership. Others include advocacy, education, practice management support, and more. Read on for a closer look at what your paid membership includes.

Maintaining Value Since Day One

The Arkansas Medical Society was founded in 1875 on the principle that combined efforts create a powerful force for all physicians and their patients. Through AMS, members have access to practice management expertise, continuing education, comprehensive insurance, and legal counsel. However, the highest value, as reported by members in recent AMS research data, is legislative advocacy for professional interests.

In 2019, AMS went through an official independent third-party to carry out membership research that included an Appreciative Inquiry Report for Arkansas Medical Society (May 2019) and an Arkansas Medical Society Nonmember Focus Group Study (Ariel Strategic Communications, September 2019) to better learn what our most engaged physicians think we do best and what others think we can do better. Additional insight was gained through a month-long survey to members about communication habits and  preferences. Through the course of the research, discussion was collected from members and nonmembers related to what is valuable to physicians, both inside and apart from AMS membership.

Physician members professed valuing The Society’s advocacy at the Capitol, engagement with members, ability to represent the views of physicians and patients during policy discussions, and provision of a community of peers for socializing and networking. Among nonmembers, physicians professed to need more of things like camaraderie, policy updates, results, and advocacy or “someone to fight for them.” (source: Focus Group). “One [nonmember] said she wants good feedback so she knows what is happening, what the issues are, what is being done, and – if efforts aren’t successful – what’s next for the  professional members of that organization,” read the report.

Another nonmember said, “Physicians get taken advantage of a lot because our primary goal is to take care of the patient. So we’re going to do everything we can for that, and if we have to take on more work, it’s not going to be not taking care of the patient. Somebody’s gotta push back … If I’m going to pay a membership fee, I expect those people to really fight for me.”

These nonmember comments were among the same things that AMS members noted that AMS can and does provide. As part of the recent Appreciative Inquiry, member stakeholders
were interviewed about the attributes they perceived as positive of the organization. Their comments about why they are active and committed included things like, “They’re in the struggle,” referring to legislative advocacy; “Collegiality and the sense of community;” being “part of” a group; “confidence and the ability to reach out to political leaders;” “guidance [that] came with encouragement;” “passion … for us and our patients and health care;” a “sense of hope;” and so on.

Advocacy Is Job #1

Every time there is an active session of the Arkansas Legislature, AMS Governmental Affairs Director Scott Smith and his team are in place and working on issues facing medicine. Smith gave examples of advocacy measures past and present. In the past, AMS led the fight for public health issues like the Clean Indoor Air Act, a tobacco tax increase that helped pay for the statewide trauma system, graduated driver’s license restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds, and a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, just to name a handful among many successful initiatives. “One of the biggest issues we’ve been involved in [recently] is the optometrist fight last year. That is still ongoing,” Smith said, referring to Act 579, which says that optometrists can perform eye surgery with minimal training. “We believe surgery should only be done by those who have gone to medical school and then have had residency training. Scope of practice issues like this one come down to protecting the public by insisting on the highest quality of training possible.

Other recent scope of practice issues have included APRNs and CRNAs, both seeking independent practice. “These issues will come back in 2021, so we have to gather as many physicians together as we can in order to fight for the highest level of training in protecting the patients of Arkansas.” AMS also regularly advocates at the Capitol in Washington, DC, the Arkansas Department of Health, the Arkansas State Medical Board, the Arkansas Insurance Department, and the Arkansas Department of Labor. According to Smith, joining the AMS non-partisan political action committee, ArkMed-PAC, is the easiest
and quickest way to help AMS advocacy efforts. ArkMed-PAC helps support candidates who are
medicine-friendly. (Go to the AMS website and look under “Advocacy” or go directly to https://
www.arkmed.org/advocacy/arkmed-pac/. Because of federal rules, ArkMed-PAC membership  is available to AMS members only, so the link to join is password protected. Contact AMS at ams@arkmed.org for the password.)

A service provided by AMS that has been a great inspiration to those physicians who have taken part in it is called Doctor of the Day Program. Organized by AMS Legislative Support Specialist Laura Hawkins, the Shuffield Infirmary is open to everyone during an active session at the Capitol. Hawkins schedules the doctors, works with the Department of Health, contacts the Senate and the House, and is physically there each day to introduce physicians to their legislators and act as a liaison. “Doctors at the Capitol may feel a little out of their element at first, but they quickly feel at home there,” said Hawkins. “The program is a great service for the legislators, but it also gives Arkansas doctors a chance to be a part of the process and to have their voices heard.” Physicians who have participated in it call the program “meaningful” and “appreciated.”

One physician said, “It was good recognition for physicians, and I feel proud to be involved at that level… the appreciation for it, and the respect that they offered us.” Another added, “Just being at the state capitol and being involved and listening in the public health committee hearings, and to know that I could actually make a difference by my presence, was phenomenal.”

Help with the Practical Side of Medicine

If you’re a member, you can call AMS with questions about private insurance, Medicare/ Medicaid, staffing issues, medical records, HIPAA violations, cybersecurity, human resources, coding, and more. In all points of managing your practice – or if you need help managing as an employed physician – AMS Director of Practice Management Billie Jean Davenport, BRST, is available to help. Davenport helps physicians with the practical side of medicine, from starting a practice to retirement, and all points in between. “We also stand up for physicians in payer issues,” said Davenport. “In January, we were made aware of an issue with Arkansas Health and Wellness about the STAT lab policy, which would limit in-office laboratory procedures. Physicians and office manager contacted us, and we were able to talk with the company and get them to rescind their policy.”

AMS Physician Outreach Specialist Tereasa Holmes, CMPE, is also available to help. Recently, the Society became aware of a physician who had an issue with his Medicaid license. “The physician was able to get his Medicaid license back on in a minimal amount of  time,” said Holmes. “Ultimately, we worked to get the patients the medicine they need, and the doctor and his staff were so appreciative.” The group has sometimes acted as a voice to the opposition for physicians. Davenport gave an example. “We wrote Walmart and urged them to reconsider their policy on requiring electronic prescriptions for controlled substances,” she said. “They had this policy to help combat the opioid epidemic, but what it did was put a burden on rural physicians and patients who don’t have the IT infrastructure to comply with the policy. We’re definitely supportive of e-prescribing, but we have to make sure that physicians are supported in meeting the state mandates.”

In addition to practice management issues of all types, Hawkins, Davenport, and AMS Director of Administrative Services Kay Waldo work on contract for AMS to carry out some of the duties of affiliated specialty societies. They are relied upon by the Arkansas Urological Society, the Arkansas Chapter of the American College of Cardiology, Arkansas Dermatological Society, and the Arkansas Ophthalmological Society.

Membership Specialist Laura Haywood pointed out other ways the Society works to support physicians in every area of medicine. Sometimes, that means bringing members together in one place. She explained, “We know doctors can feel isolated, so we provide an opportunity for physicians to come together to talk about the issues that concern them most and to learn from each other how to better help their patients. A good example of this is our annual membership meeting, complete with CME.”

While this year’s May 1 meeting has been suspended due to COVID-19 concerns, the Presidential Gala honoring incoming president Chad Rodgers, MD, will be rescheduled for a later date. Aside from the annual membership meeting, AMS provides regular continuing education opportunities for you and your staff members. For example, each October, they host an insurance conference during which payers come together to talk about issues and give attendees a chance to ask questions.

AMS Begins a Membership Campaign: Will You Help?

After sharing this brief overview of AMS membership advantages, the Society appeals to all members to take advantage of every membership benefit. In addition, they ask members to help them spread the word  to non-member physicians throughout the state. To that end,
The Society will launch a campaign to bring more awareness of the Society to potential members. Staff members are reaching out to medical students and residents, making group and clinic visits, attending partner events, and taking time to explain the long-term impact of physicians joining the Society. “It’s extremely important that AMS continue to work on its membership growth,” said AMS Executive Vice President David Wroten.

“Those physicians who are members are carrying the load for everyone else. Membership fuels all the advocacy efforts of the AMS. While this is certainly true to ensure AMS has the financial
resources to accomplish its work, it is especially true from the advocacy perspective. More members mean we have a broader representation of thought leaders. It means the AMS Board of Trustees is more representative of the state. In short, our membership is the lifeblood of our organization, and we, in turn, work to be the lifeblood of our members, professionally speaking.”

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