The strength of professional associations like AGA depends on the contributions of its volunteer members. Traditionally, membership volunteerism has taken the form of a hierarchical structure consisting of governing boards, committees and task forces. These bodies often require that volunteers have a high level of specialization and make significant time commitments, two things that early-career gastroenterologists may not have. GI fellows and those gastroenterologists who are just out of training face unique challenges when it comes to volunteering their time. Between handling the clinical load, staying up-to-date on the literature and managing young families, early-career GIs often feel like they have little or no time left to meaningfully participate in an organization like AGA.
However, we believe these individuals have both a desire to give back to the GI community and something highly important to contribute. For this reason, in 2015, AGA launched the AGA Young Delegates program with the objective of creating alternate volunteer opportunities that provide short-term assignments, flexible deadlines, project-based work and virtual participation. The program also tries to align these opportunities with a volunteer’s interests and experience. We hope this new initiative can solve several of the roadblocks faced by early-career GIs and enhance their participation in AGA.
The crucial question to ask before embarking on a solution like this is whether early-career GIs seek involvement in AGA, and if so, why? Current data shows that a large proportion of GI fellows join AGA as trainee members but member engagement and retention appears to drop sharply in the years following fellowship training. Despite having a desire to contribute to their profession and to explore their own leadership strengths, these young members face several barriers that prevent them from active engagement in AGA. The main reasons for this appear to be lack of access to volunteering opportunities, requirements for extended time commitments, and an ambiguous path toward leadership within the organization. We believe that by changing the approach to volunteering and involvement within AGA, we can significantly enhance participation in mission-driven projects and tailor projects to fit an individual’s competence and expertise.
Traditional volunteer leadership involvement in AGA has been based on the committee model, and service in these committees generally involves attending meetings in person or virtually for at least two years. This, in turn, requires the ability to take time off from paid employment to attend to committee duties and also requires a willingness to sacrifice personal time that could be spent on other pursuits. The traditional model does allow for extended deliberations and strong collaborations, but at the same time can be plagued with volunteer burnout, limited access and a consequent lack of innovation.
We believe that a solution for this is the concept of micro volunteerism, which has become more and more popular in recent years with the explosion of social media. Micro volunteerism, like the name suggests, involves dividing tasks into small, bite-sized portions that busy volunteers can help complete. It often involves crowdsourcing the solution, thus leading to greater engagement and innovation by members. This concept appears to be the ideal solution for engagement of busy, early-career GIs who are usually juggling multiple tasks simultaneously, both at home and at work, and is the basis for the Young Delegates program.
For more information on how to get involved with AGA Young Delegates, visit gastro.org/youngdelegates, where you can fill out a brief online form to list your skills, areas of interest and availability. AGA will maintain a list of all currently available volunteer activities where member input is solicited. Each volunteer activity will contain a project summary, time required of volunteers, expertise required and instructions on how to complete the activity. Individual delegates can then choose projects to volunteer for on an ad-hoc basis. AGA will maintain a database of all the members in the Young Delegates program with the goal of aligning an individual member’s interests with AGA’s unmet needs.
Overall, the program provides an innovative platform that promotes bottom-up, grassroots engagement and invites innovative ideas, and solutions, to problems commonly faced by our members. It also offers opportunities for members to become progressively more involved with AGA. This is an exciting venture with a flexible platform, and we hope that it will help foster a sense of belonging and recognition among early-career GIs.
Dr. Singh has no conflicts to disclose.
Dr. Dhanasekaran has no conflicts to disclose.