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Notes From the Executive Director: Membership is an Opportunity Writ Large

Membership is An Opportunity Writ Large

In his seminal work “Democracy in America,” published in 1835, the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the drive for various communities to unite “in association” was a unique and distinguishing attribute to the newly developing democracy in America. “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite,” he wrote. “There is nothing that deserves more to attract our regard than the intellectual and moral associations of America.

The science of association is the mother science: The progress of all others depends on the progress of that one.” He characterized associations and societies, professional and civic, as “crucibles of intellectual innovation and expression of freedom.”

The astounding power in medical societies as “associations” is that they are created and developed by members, for members, and are completely self-determined in focused pursuit of “intellectual innovation and expression of freedom.” You, the members of SVS, are truly its lifeblood, intellectual capital and expression.

After three weeks on the job as SVS executive director, I attended my first VAM. As you can imagine, I had compiled a list of sessions and meetings to attend that was far longer than there were hours in the day! I attended as many meetings as I could, and they were extremely valuable, but as the new executive director, I was also interested in discovering something different and perhaps far more valuable. I wanted to sense the heart and soul of vascular surgery, vascular surgeons and SVS members. So I set out to meet and speak to as many members and nonmembers as possible, in meetings, hallways and receptions.

It was not difficult to find the heart and soul I was seeking. Whether in early, mid- or later career, whether academic or in community practice, 100 percent of the dozens of VAM attendees I spoke with lit up with great passion about their patients. It made me extremely humble and proud to now be in their service and working on their behalf.

Most I spoke with also expressed equal passion about SVS. The importance to them of maintaining and strengthening SVS was of paramount importance. “Why?” I kept inquiring. “Why is SVS so important to you?” I heard a steady dose of: “It is our professional home,” “It is setting the standard for quality,” “It is looking out for us and protecting our profession and interests,” “It is where we learn about the future, clinically and regarding the health system,” “It is where we connect with one another.” Alexis de Tocqueville was clearly onto something in 1835. Connectivity and association is just as vital, strong and powerful today, 181 years later.

What came through loud and clear to me was that the true value of SVS membership is clearly ‘writ large’ in the minds and hearts of members. They went straight to mission. Very few noted “the stuff” they receive as member benefits as the most important value driver. Perhaps one member articulated it best when she said, “Benefits add value, but they are not THE value.”

I spoke to quite a few nonmembers also. When I asked why they lapsed or have not joined, not one mentioned it was because SVS had no value to them. I heard that they: “belonged to many other organizations” or they had little time to get involved. And then a couple of consistent responses really caught my attention: “I am not sure how to become involved;” “I don’t know how to move my idea forward so it gets addressed.”

Today, with a growingly diverse membership championing a growingly diverse set of priorities, perhaps there can be no single model or value of SVS. If SVS positions itself well as a catalyst … a facilitative body, to help each member drive forward and advance their careers and priorities, it becomes the value each member desires it to be, and this may be the biggest value of all.

So, Alexis de Toqueville, merci beaucoup for your observational skills and insight. If I might alter your insight slightly, it is no longer sufficient for societies to serve as a mere “crucible” for intellectual innovation and creative freedom. They must serve as a catalyst for the realization of those innovations and freedoms as conceived and defined by each member, and they must do so by uniting them with others of like mind, heart and purpose, who can help manifest them as reality.

As we approach fall, and dues renewal season, I ask you to think about the SVS “writ large” on your careers and your lives. Membership matters. Association matters. Your dreams matter. I heard you loud and clear. I’m on it! Thank you for all you are doing on behalf of patients and for SVS ... and thank you for your membership.