I begin this article with the obvious: these are challenging times. Some of the challenges are thrust upon us, like the COVID-19 virus, and some are made by our own society, like the political polarization of, well, basically everything. When I was younger, the list of controversial topics at social functions used to be short: money, religion, politics. The approach was also simple: don’t discuss. For better or worse, politics has now dramatically expanded the “controversial” list to include much more: masks (the kind to prevent the spread of infection), vaccines, school safety, weather, the economy, kids’ sports, and many other topics. At the same time, norms about how to approach controversial topics have also changed. Individuals are more openly sharing opinions, and often expecting others to do the same (although respect for differences could at times be better). These changing norms, along with numerous platforms for individuals and groups to amplify their messages, have had an enormous influence.
These changing norms aren’t just affecting us at the individual level. Our society as a whole is also expecting more from its organizations. The “lay low and avoid the issue” business approach of the past is no longer the safe — or, in my view, even the correct — approach for organizational leaders to address challenging topics. Employees, members of professional societies, customers of businesses, and society at large know that organizations are run by people, and those people have certain values. If you fail to be sincere as an organization about what those values are, there may be worse backlash than that caused by being transparent about values and dealing (maturely) with the ensuing difference of opinions. These days, an organization that stays silent is sending a message anyway. With that in mind, if I’m going to be judged on my message as an organizational leader, I’d rather go down swinging.
This preamble brings me to the important topic of SHM using its voice, and how that voice is being shaped.
SHM leadership, including the Board of Directors, staff leadership (including me as CEO), and other SHM members, believes that SHM’s powerful voice should continue to be used to make a positive impact on issues that are important to us as hospitalists, but also as people. The focus of that positive impact will continue to be on our members and our hospitalized patients, as has always been the case. You have likely seen SHM use its voice very effectively for predominantly hospitalist-centric issues like clinical care, the opioid crisis, clinician well-being, observation care, or billing changes. But more recently, the SHM voice has begun to speak on issues that, while still inside the sphere of medicine, also have an effect on our daily lives. For us to stay silent on polarizing issues like gun violence, abortion, and misinformation, just to name a few, would still send a message—just the wrong message.
The Board and the staff at SHM run the organization using values that are important to us as professionals and as people. We want to make a difference and do good for the most people and patients possible, especially those who may need an advocate in their corner. If you’ve seen me speak, you know I use my own core values to help me reach decisions around complex topics (see “Top 10 Leadership Tips from Dr. Eric Howell” in the March 2022 issue of The Hospitalist). Not surprisingly, the SHM Board of Directors and other SHM staff have similar values and apply those to the organization in their own complementary ways. In addition to SHM leadership using our own values as a guide for how and when to use the SHM voice, we work hard to engage a wide range of voices from across the spectrum. The Public Policy Committee, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, the Annual Conference Committee, Special Interest Groups, and Chapter leaders are all membership platforms that SHM leadership consults regularly.
Our president, Dr. Rachel Thompson, is developing a series of listening sessions with members, starting at the Pediatric Hospital Medicine annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., and will engage others both in person and virtually for regular input from members. We’ll provide more information on how members can be a part of those listening sessions once the details are finalized.
While time and resources don’t allow for SHM to connect one-on-one with all 18,000 members, these SHM forums have been, and will continue to be, instrumental in allowing SHM leadership to get perspectives from a wide spectrum of our diverse membership. We genuinely strive to listen to all opinions and respect everyone’s voice, even those with opinions that differ from whatever consensus has been reached. Diversity of thought and open dialogue strengthen SHM and often allow for more inclusive messages and solutions to polarizing and complex issues.
In a perfect world, everything the SHM voice says would resonate with 100% of members, 100% of the time. But since that’s not reality, on the (hopefully rare) occasion a member—or members—may not be in complete agreement with SHM’s statements, I want you to know what process we use to determine when and how we use SHM’s voice. When it comes to using the SHM voice on challenging topics, we listen to our membership, we are guided by our core values, and we try to use that voice to do the most good for those in the most need.