February President's Page

January 27, 2020

February President's Page

Fellowship in Perspective
Hernando J.“Joe” Ortega, Jr., M.D., M.P.H., FAsMA

In AsMA’s past, there has been angst and ado about becoming a “Fellow.” But what is it, really, this thing called “fellowship”? Merriam Webster defines fellow as “a member of a group having common characteristics” (… like a scientific society). Fellowship also means “communion, rapport, or rapprochement.” A fellow is also defined as “a person appointed to a position granting a stipend and allowing for advanced study or research”; thus a fellowship would be “the position of a fellow (as of a university)” [Ref:].
   Over the years, many members have had angst about what it takes to become a Fellow of AsMA. Some are frustrated and disillusioned with the process. Recall that AsMA, at its founding, was a medical specialty society [Ortega HJ. President’s Page. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2019; 90(6):505]. So we might look to medical specialty societies for insights into what fellowship actually represents. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) defines fellowship as a “credential,” that exists to “foster the professional growth and development of surgeons, promote high standards and best practices in surgical care, and establish and maintain patients’ confidence in the ability and integrity of their surgeon” [].
   The website lists nine requirements for becoming a Fellow of the ACS. The American College of Physicians (ACP) describes fellowship as “a mark of distinction representing the pinnacle of integrity, professionalism, and scholarship for those who aspire to pursue careers in Internal Medicine.” They too, consider it “a credential,” and they refer to the process as “advancing to fellowship.” Their website also lists nine requirements for advancing to Fellow of the ACP []. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) calls this distinction “ the Degree of Fellow. ” AAFP fellowship is for those members who distinguished themselves among their colleagues, as well as in their communities, by their service to family medicine, by their advancement of health care to the American people, and by their professional development through medical education and research [].
   All three of these organizations list medical credentials (medical school graduation, medical licensure, specialty medical practice and board certification) as pre-requisites for fellowship. Additionally, they list varying terms of “dues paying membership” in the society as well as fees for becoming fellows. All mention professional excellence, ethical fitness, and continuing education as key prerequisites for fellowship. They also require several “references” from current fellows in the application process. The AAFP has a point system that includes a variety of activities in the profession and in the society along with a minimum point score. The ACP specifically designates additional activities in publication, leadership, education, or service to ACP as important for advancement. The ACS requires fellows to recite a pledge to abide by the society’s code of conduct. The ACP has a formal convocation ceremony.
   But as you may also recall, AsMA has evolved beyond strictly a medical specialty society to include all members of Team Aerospace [Ortega HJ. President’s Page. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2019; 90(6):505]. With this change in membership, AsMA’s criteria for becoming a Fellow have also morphed to allow for all members to become Fellows.
   AsMA fellowship denotes an honor as being recognized as the highest level of organizational membership. Fellows are considered ambassadors of everything AsMA stands for. A candidate for Fellow should show via past action(s) the ability to integrate and assimilate all areas of aerospace medicine practice and studies. They should demonstrate a better than average working knowledge of the organizational “big picture,” demonstrating a high level of professional and organizational service. It isn’t simply “X” years-worth of dues payments. The application process gathers various parameters to serve as a baseline from which to determine fidelity and synergy with the core principles of the organization.
   Recent Fellows Group Chairs (Drs. Jim Vanderploeg, George Anderson, and Warren Silberman) have shepherded many of the
changes to the AsMA Fellows election process. AsMA’s process has taken cues from other specialty societies in developing our own unique system. The current Fellows election process begins in the late fall/early winter with co-nomination of individuals by two current AsMA Fellows. The Associate Fellows Group may sponsor multiple nominations from their membership as designated by the Fellows Group. The Fellows Nominating Committee then solicits nominee applications (via electronic process) which are vetted by the Fellows Evaluation Committee for veracity and ranking via a point system. Then the Nomination Committee builds a slate of candidates and opens this slate to the Fellows Group for comment. After any adjustments, the slate is approved by the entire Fellows Group.
   The best way to “advance” to Fellow is to start with the Associate Fellows Group. They have multiple ways to get the word out about the advancement process, specifically their breakfast at the Annual Meeting. Of course, participating in professional activities with AsMA is the “main highway” towards Fellowship. Attending Annual Meetings, presenting panels, getting to know how AsMA works, volunteering on committees, and advancing your professional knowledge/experience are the proper paths to follow. As your experience in the various disciplines of Aerospace Medicine (and AsMA) advance, so do your qualifications for
   I hope this little missive on fellowship helps you to better understand the pathway towards AsMA Fellow. Maintain your aeromedical knowledge. Develop your communication and educational skills by presenting or publishing. Guard your ethical standing with exquisite professionalism. Serve your profession and your society. Join AsMA committees and participate. Cultivate your leadership abilities. Help govern the organization and move us forward. It will advance you to Fellow — where you should endeavor to “pay it forward” by mentoring those who follow — our students, residents, and young practitioners. They will need this knowledge and mentorship to sustain our specialty organization. And to … keep ‘em flying.

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