On the allure of organized medicine

The company we keep can say a lot about us. As such, comradery is a pretty significant concept to human beings, but not just in personal sectors — professionally, being an active agent of the many can do wonders for one’s sense of fulfillment.

One tends to be more empowered when they recognize where in a particular machine their cog fits. For physicians, according to AMA President-elect Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, that sense of security and control can arise with considerable strength from organized medicine.

Dee Hoven relayed the following personal anecdote regarding the power of MD grouping in an op-ed for American Medical News:

“I was an infectious disease specialist in the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. I was part of the advance guard — treating very sick patients without a good understanding of what was wrong with them or what to do about it. As AIDS began to spread, fear gripped the nation, including my home state of Kentucky, where the state Legislature set out to make the situation even worse. They were intent on passing a bill that would have made life significantly harder for my AIDS patients.

For me, that was one indignation too many. I may not have been able to save my HIV patients at the time, but I knew I could do something about the Legislature. I also recognized that it would take the clout of an organization like the Kentucky Medical Assn. So I stepped up my involvement in my local society and was soon elected to the KMA House of Delegates. We fought the legislation, and we won.

In that moment, I recognized the power of organized medicine. For the first time, I saw how an issue I faced in my exam room could be taken to a higher level. And if resolved at that higher level, the benefits would reach not only my own patients but also every patient in the state of Kentucky.

There are going to be moments when legislators get it wrong. While they are healers for an overarching system situated on care for fellow human beings, they are not certified medical personnel and they do not know the full perimeters of the healthcare trade. But even one voice from the MD trenches is not enough to correct these missteps — amendment requires the input of many."

For this reason, being a participant in holding up representative umbrellas — for messenger organizations like the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and so forth — is hugely important. It makes you a part of the change you want to see made, as Hoven articulated.

And shaping laws more accurately on a grand scale isn’t the only benefit of organized medicine — making more informed treatment guidelines within the industry is also a huge perk.

“Organized medicine has an astounding record of achievements in this country. In the past 166 years, we have delivered the first Code of Medical Ethics, the first standards for medical education and the most widely circulated medical journal in the world,” Hoven wrote. “Organized medicine helped physicians fight quackery at the turn of the 20th century, promoted the adoption of modern surgical techniques.”

Sure, there are moments when members of robust systems feel small, but isn’t that how the human body itself functions? Small pieces are required to keep the system not only alive, but thriving and when there is a deficiency somewhere, the body has a way of alerting the higher ups of the shortcoming. So too can your own personal concerns behave in a physician community, in organized medicine.

It’s at least worth the effort. Because — unlike with the body — if you find that it’s not for you, you can always recede without causing considerable harm.