Lessons learned from the AGA Future Leaders Program

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in The New Gastroenterologist.

I have been a member of AGA since my first year of GI fellowship. Out of all the GI professional societies, I have always considered it to be my home. AGA is the organization I turn to for direction on providing high value and quality care to my patients, up-to-date information on research and technology innovations in our specialty, education and training programs for the next generation of gastroenterology and hepatology providers, and for my own continued learning. I have received so many benefits from my membership and am always looking to pay back my appreciation — a wonderful way to do this was through my participation in the Future Leaders Program. The description of the AGA Future Leaders Program is that it “provides a pathway within the organization for selected participants to network, connect with mentors, develop leadership skills and learn about AGA’s governance and operations while advancing their careers and supporting the profession.” I can honestly say that the program delivers on all of these promises.

The program started with a meeting at AGA headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, where we were introduced to key AGA staff, learned about the core mission and goals of AGA, and received training in leadership skills. I was able to gain invaluable insight into the leadership and governance of AGA and I now have a better understanding of AGA’s commitment to maintaining a vital organization. At this meeting we were assigned two mentors — one for career coaching and one to guide us through our main project. We worked closely with these mentors throughout the program and I have no doubt these relationships will continue well into the future. For the main project we were assigned to a team with another participant to research and develop a project that aligned with the overall strategic plan of AGA and fulfilled a need or gap within the organization. The projects covered topics such as ways to engage early career professionals in the AGA Community, enhance access to the AGA guidelines, increase membership, highlight top publications from the AGA journals, expand networking among fellows and early career members, develop education metrics, and provide educational opportunities for international members. We worked on our main project remotely with our teams over six months, culminating in a final presentation that was shared with all participants in the Future Leaders Program, as well as AGA committees. Some of these projects are already being implemented. It was a truly amazing experience to work closely with the knowledgeable and dedicated AGA staff, gain skills in teamwork and strategic planning, and hear about the innovative ideas from all the participants in the Future Leaders Program.

In addition to the initial meeting in Bethesda, we attended a reception at Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) with alumni from the prior class of Future Leaders, a face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C., held in conjunction with the AGA Joint Committee Meetings, participated in Advocacy Day after the fall meeting, and attended some virtual roundtable discussions. One of the virtual discussions focused on our final project which allowed us to apply our skills in strategic planning on a smaller scale to proposals for microvolunteerism. These proposals allow for convenient, short-term volunteer activities that move forward the mission of AGA and cultivate local leaders. The microvolunteerism proposals are a fantastic example of AGA leadership’s understanding that utilizing and engaging members is one of the best ways to ensure a vital and relevant organization. I am excited to see some of the proposals come to fruition over the next few years.

Through the Future Leaders Program, I not only learned a lot about AGA but also a great deal about myself. I learned about my own leadership style, which for those of you who know me would not be surprised to find out is “harmony.” I see the possibilities in others and try to capitalize on this potential to achieve our mutual goals. I learned how this leadership style can contribute to organizations as a whole, but also the importance of incorporating multiple leadership styles in all projects. This is valuable information that I have no doubt will help throughout my career. This program also provided an opportunity for me to connect and network with colleagues across the country whom I may not have otherwise met. These connections resulted in new research collaborations, as well as new friendships. As the 2018 AGA Future Leaders Program came to a close, I found myself with a deeper understanding of the mission and vision of AGA, opportunities for more involvement, and a stronger commitment to our organization. I hope to one day participate as a mentor to other future leaders in the program. I encourage everyone interested in gaining leadership skills and more insight into the governance and operations of AGA to apply.

Since the AGA Future Leaders Program began in the spring of 2015, two classes of 18 participants and nine mentors have participate in the 18-month comprehensive leadership development program. Nearly all of the Future Leader program alumni are serving AGA in a variety of leadership capacities, including serving on committees, the editorial boards or volunteering as speakers and authors for AGA publications and events.

The next Future Leaders program will begin in the spring of 2019 and the opportunity to apply will launch this fall.

Dr Weiss has no conflicts to disclose.

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