If there’s one struggle that all SHM chapters know well, it’s engagement.
Evelyn Gathecha, MD, FACP, FHM, tackles the issue head-on as president of the Maryland outpost.
“Engagement is always a challenge,” said Dr. Gathecha, a hospitalist with Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group in Rockville, Md. “So we’ve tried to look for different ways to engage our members, and also hospitalists in general, to become members.”
It’s working well, as the group was awarded platinum status after a busy slate of at least six events in 2022.
That level of activity is the key to success, says Dr. Gathecha.
“Maryland is a huge state,” she said. “We have more than 50 hospital-medicine groups. And given the size of the state and the number of hospital-medicine groups, we cannot meet the needs of all of the hospitalists across the state. So, having the virtual platform, in addition to keeping an in-person platform, has gone a long way.”
While some chapters have abandoned virtual events after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Gathecha sees a mix of remote and in-person events as another trick in the toolbox for—wait for it—engagement.
“We’re able to meet the needs of those hospitalists who are not able to travel to come and meet us in Baltimore, or Howard County,” she said. “At the same time, it’s also keeping interest in meetings with those hospitalists who are local and can stay engaged in person with their fellow hospitalists. That’s one way we have kept engagement, by being creative and maintaining both platforms so we can reach out to everybody.”
Attendance isn’t the only metric that matters, though. Engagement means holding lectures, discussions, or panels that speak to issues members care the most about.
Dr. Gathecha says the chapter has been more deliberate with the event content and topics, making sure to bring in high-level information. They ask members what topics they’re interested in and what they want to learn more about, and then use that feedback to develop content and events as another way to stay relevant to chapter members.
Dr. Gathecha is also committed to growing the chapter, which was founded before 2012 and now has some 378 members. In 2023, the group added a membership director, which has pushed a 10% jump in the chapter’s size.
“It is our members that drive our chapter,” Dr. Gathecha said. “I feel that if you engage members and provide the content they find valuable, they’re more likely to come back and to be repeat attendees or committed attendees. Half the time, maybe they’re just not aware of all the available benefits. SHM is a huge organization with a lot of offerings. I think as chapter officers, we need to be intentional in sharing information about all the benefits SHM has to offer. I think that’s why it’s important to listen to members and make sure we’re meeting them where they are.”
Dr. Gathecha says that includes meeting the needs of academic and non-academic hospitalists, who can sometimes feel at odds.
“I had the opportunity of being an academic hospitalist for more than 10 years before transitioning to non-academic hospital medicine,” she said. “This has allowed me to experience both academic and non-academic environments and personally interact with hospitalists in both settings. I bring these conversations and experiences back to our chapter office meetings as we discuss ways to maintain and increase the engagement of all hospitalists.”
But engagement work is never done, Dr. Gathecha and her board believe. She wants more residents and early-career hospitalists involved in the chapter, building the leadership board of the future.
“The engagement among resident physicians is not that high,” she said. “My vision in terms of our chapter growth, is to tap into these young hospitalists and try to encourage them to join the chapter. I think it’s a niche that we’re still working on and trying to grow.”
One approach is having a resident chapter advisory member who can weigh in on “content that is of value to residents in training,” Dr. Gathecha said.
“This year, we are awarding membership to resident members, and we are looking for them as being SHM resident ambassadors,” she said. “Hopefully, as they go to their programs, they can share what SHM has to offer and hopefully get more residents to join the chapter. In addition, we’re going to create a lecture series this year dedicated to the residents. That’s another way we can show the value of SHM to residents.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.