The ACR Needs You
Dispelling myths about the benefits of ACR membership and participation.
I am categorized by the ACR as a “young or early career” physician, as I am under 40 and within the first eight years of my practice. If you’re like me, you know that the landscape of the profession has changed.
The job market is tightening, and we are seeing less favorable job options as we transition into practice. Real uncertainty surrounds our future reimbursement, and demands on our time are increasing as we respond to various MOC responsibilities.
The challenges we face as we look toward our future may seem overwhelming, almost insurmountable. However, thanks to the ACR, we can address these challenges. And while the College defends the specialty, the reality is that the ACR can’t do it alone. Our profession needs us now more than ever. We need to be active and engaged, not just as physicians practicing radiology, but as members of the ACR.
As chair of the Young and Early Career Physician Section, I hear all too often my colleagues’ usually misguided rationales for not paying dues or participating in the ACR. Here are some of the misconceptions I hear most often.
Misconception #1: Participating in the ACR won’t help me find a job.
I’ll tell you a story about a physician who I’ll call Dr. Jones. He was an East Coast native until as a high school student he moved to the West Coast. After medical school, Dr. Jones went on to intern in California and then ventured back east for residency and fellowship in a not-so-big city. During his training, Dr. Jones became involved in the ACR. This experience was a breath of fresh air in the mildly musty life of radiology residency. He was exposed to the inner workings of organized medicine and the immense nature of health care delivery from a wide-angle lens. He was introduced to so many bright and interesting individuals in the ACR that he decided to further his involvement. It was during his time as an ACR volunteer that Dr. Jones met a physician I’ll call Dr. Smith from Wyoming.
A few years later, Dr. Jones was finishing up his final year of fellowship, reviewing job postings on the ACR Career Center, and putting his resume out to see what was happening on the job front. Around this time, Dr. Jones received a lengthy email from Dr. Smith, encouraging him to consider an interview, not on one of the coasts but in the hinterlands.
You’ve probably realized by now that Dr. Jones is actually me. I’m embarrassed to admit that when I received Dr. Smith’s email, I wasn’t sure which square on the map represented Wyoming. But I am happy to report that I went for the interview and have been happily employed with Dr. Smith for the past three years. My family and I call Wyoming home now, all as a result of an early interaction with ACR leaders as a volunteer and as an attendee at the AMCLC.
For many physicians, networking through the ACR has provided the opportunity of a lifetime, namely the path to career happiness. I highly recommend becoming as involved as possible and as early as possible!
Misconception #2: The ACR doesn’t do anything to protect our financial future. All I see are more reimbursement cuts.
The reality is that the health care pricing debate is a moving target. CMS would like to see the overall cost of health care decrease. Due to the continued upward trend of imaging utilization, the government sees imaging services as a potential target for reducing cost. Despite the lack of data to support that position, this is the current paradigm.
The primary focus of the ACR’s Government Relations and Economics departments is mitigating cuts to reimbursement and enabling patient access to quality imaging services. The number of dollars and hours spent to protect our reimbursement is incredible. The ACR has prevented severe and deep cuts to radiology reimbursement and successfully lobbied to include verbiage in legislation that will decrease the likelihood of further unsubstantiated cuts. Two salient volunteers, Ezequiel Silva III, MD, and Geraldine B. McGinty, MD, MBA, FACR, have worked tirelessly on behalf of the College to defend our professional standing on the AMA’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC).
The second and more important piece of the puzzle is that we are the ACR. The membership of the ACR totals over 30,000! However, when the ACR asks for letters to be sent to government representatives, solicits responses to the Federal Register and CMS, or asks members to fill out RUC surveys, our response rate is typically only a few hundred. I believe that a bigger problem is that we, as members and recipients of the goodwill of the College’s efforts, are largely to blame. If we do not donate to RADPAC, if we do not work with our local state chapters and representatives, if we do not respond to the calls to action, and if we do not encourage our non-member colleagues to join, then the finger-pointing is merely blame shifting. It is the College staff, the College volunteers, and their clinician partners who are paying the price for the inactivity of the remainder of the College’s members and potential members.
Misconception #3: Dr. So-And-So participates, so I don’t have to.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Many hands make light work”? It truly applies here. The College requires participation at every level: local, state, and national. We are all responsible for our future as well as the future of our profession.
Misconception #4: I have no time.
The reality is that there are many ways to be active in the College, and not all of them require significant time commitments. We all check our email multiple times per day. During that time, we read, reply to, and compose numerous messages. Something as easy as emailing your Congressperson or Senator when a call for action is sent can be a significant benefit to the College’s advocacy efforts. Do you spend half an hour talking on the phone with a friend every once in a while? We all do. Volunteering for a committee or subcommittee of the College and engaging in a conference call on a quarterly basis requires little more time than that friendly conversation. Do you like to travel, learn, and meet new people? Courses are available year-round to develop both our clinical and nonclinical skills. One venue is the AMCLC, where you can improve your knowledge about coding, economics, and advocacy while networking with members and leaders from across the country.
Misconception #5: I have no money, and dues are expensive.
I won’t deny that many of us are faced with substantial debt upon the completion of our training, but the ACR is aware of this financial burden and offers substantially reduced dues during our first four years of practice. The College invests in us as residents and fellows with complimentary membership and devotes significant resources in efforts to protect our financial future. The purse strings may be tight in our early years of practice, but without continuing support of the ACR through sustained membership and increased participation, they’d be even tighter. The ACR is the only professional organization that is fighting for our collective best interest. Paying dues is money well spent, and these days, many groups and practices are covering the annual ACR dues as a corporate expense.
The challenges facing us and the profession are real. However, we have a vibrant organization on our side, so we need not face them alone. The best chance we have to prevent the worst-case scenarios from occurring is to become informed and get involved. The ACR will continue to be there for us, but we also have to be there for our organization and our profession.
By Charles W. Bowkley III, MD