Michael C. Gosney, DVM, MD, JD, MBA*

* Disclaimer: Michael C. Gosney, MD is a small-town anesthesiologist in the South. The opinions expressed in this series of articles are his own. In Dr. Gosney’s words, “I am an avowed advocate for physicians and physician-led medical care. Although the views expressed will try to be even and true, there will be an inherent slant toward promoting smaller government and physicians.”

Southern Medical Association Annual Meeting

My Take Away From St. Petersburg

Having just returned from the Southern Medical Association (SMA) Annual Meeting in St. Petersburg, FL, I wanted to thank everyone for a very good meeting in a really great venue.

Change is Inevitable

During this year’s annual meeting, a seminal event happened to SMA. The SMA organizational and leadership structure was drastically changed. These changes involved SMA taking direct control of its wholly owned subsidiary, SMA Services, Inc. (SMAS), and streamlining the leadership structure to reduce the number of its Board of Directors. Some believe this is a mistake, some think it is a good move, and some really do not have an opinion.

There is a saying that the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.”

This restructuring makes organizational sense and allows for a more rapid response time to changes in the marketplace and membership issues, and reduces decision-making time. All of these are extremely important in today’s world of instant communication and social media’s constant coverage and excess volume, including  “fake news”. We connect electronically to the world, our social and professional networks are virtual, and our educational needs and knowledge resources are online. As opposed to those before us who attended face-to-face meetings, we reach out and interact on a daily basis through apps, email, texting, and, even face time. Are live meetings necessary? Are live meetings needed?  While the answer to these questions was a rousing YES, 10 years ago; today, I am not so sure. How does an association fit into the electronic online world we experience daily? How does an association compete with online educational products that are tailored to a physician’s need? The SMA must rapidly adapt!

Less than 2 weeks ago SMA took the first steps as an organization to do just that. I am excited to see what the future brings for the Association and how we become more relevant to our members and the world around us. If we cannot influence change and make a difference in the lives of our patients or our physician members, the organization will not last long. I applaud our leadership for restructuring and streamlining our Association.

Historical Perspective

As background information, here is a brief overview from my point of view.

The SMA was formed in 1906 as a way for Southern physicians to congregate, communicate, and meet with other physicians to further their knowledge and personal network without making the long train trips to the AMA meeting in Chicago. The Southern Medical Association Alliance (SMAA) was formed in 1924 and both SMA and SMAA were major medical organizations and annual must-make meetings for many years. Changes to meeting sponsorships, changing needs of members, and changing attitudes of newer members all resulted in a decline of meeting attendance, as well as a decline in membership.

The government decreed that pharmaceutical and device manufacturers’ vendors at meetings were detrimental and overly suggestive to meeting attendees and resulted in over prescribing. As such, vendors were subjected to rules and regulations about how much they can spend on meetings. As you know, a pen, stress ball, or a cup can sway physicians to prescribe said drug (sarcasm). Yet everyday I see and hear commercials promoting the newer, best, high-priced drug for a specific syndrome or disease over the TV or radio. I believe these rules and regulations were and are idiotic. That being said, the sponsorships stopped. The grants and sponsorships of SMA’s grand meetings stopped. SMA’s draw to major family-friendly destinations and grand venues eventually wound down. Membership and meeting attendance decreased. SMA adapted too slowly to these challenges but eventually moved to smaller venues to be more prudent with our members’ resources. Declining membership and attendance continued to present challenges for SMA, a member-driven organization. Our membership challenges are no different than ones that every association has and is experiencing. How we respond will make the difference!

An additional challenge encountered by SMA and SMAS was the aging of our members. Our older members participated in our financial products and insurance products at a higher rate than our newer and younger members. Our health insurance products were well received, yet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with its prohibition on Association products, made our health insurance product nonexistent. All of these factors reduced the revenue from our subsidiary and reduced the resources available to SMA. Lack of revenue dictates allocation of resources and leads to downsizing, examination of all products and services, necessitates hard decisions and embracing change.

One Suggestion

For years I have felt that the Southern Medical Association has sold itself short and limited its footprint through use of “Southern” in our name. I would suggest that our leadership consider becoming “SMA” and eliminating “Southern”. We should strive for expansion into a more nation-wide organization. “S” can stand for Southern, Specialties; just “S”, like “IBM” or another appropriate “S” word.

Moving Forward

It is time to reinvent and repurpose our Association. This organizational change is a start. I, for one, am excited to see changes coming to our organization. It is time to be inventive and innovative and strive to be relevant to our target audience and membership pool. I am looking forward to seeing the direction and purpose adopted by our leadership to sustain and grow the SMA.

Michael C. Gosney

Michael C. Gosney, DVM, MD, JD, MBA

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