HealthFebruary 25, 2020

Are physician association membership benefits worth it?

By: Heidi Moawad, MD
Is joining a physician association worthwhile? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of joining and how to get the most out of membership benefits.

As you navigate your career as a physician, do you want to be part of the inner circle, the groups that have influence in medicine? The membership benefits offered by physician organizations can help you connect with a community of your peers.

There are a number of general and specialty physician organizations you can join, and the decision about which—if any—could be right for you can feel a little daunting when you aren’t sure of the benefits. As you decide whether a physician society is worth your time, money and attention, it helps to know that it’s usually never too early or too late to join and that you can always opt out of renewing when your membership expires.

While it’s highly likely that you will join a formal physician association at some point in your career, you probably can’t join all of them, so deciding which groups would benefit you the most is a good first step.

The pros and cons of physician association memberships

A paper published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery cites a number of medical association membership benefits, from career development and mentorship to participation in advocacy initiatives. The authors characterize the best associations as places of trust, negotiation, accountability and collectivity.

More specifically, professional physician organizations can provide perks like discounts on accredited continuing medical education and conferences as well as “soft” advantages such as friendships with other physicians. If you want to become involved in leadership, research or education, being a member of a well-known physician organization can provide you with credibility, direction, a team to work with and resources. And if you’re looking for a job, the networking opportunities at organizational meetings can help keep you in the loop and may also put you on other physicians’ radars when they’re looking for partners.

All that said, there may be some unexpected disadvantages to joining a sanctioned physician society. If you join a group that adopts a political stance you either disagree with or just don’t want to be aligned with, your membership in that group can inaccurately brand you. And when members lobby for leadership positions within the organization, you could be pressured to declare alliances and loyalty, a process that can become far more confrontational than you may be bargaining for, especially if your intentions include learning while sitting on the sidelines.

The risks of opting out

Even if you don’t see immediate benefits to joining a physician association, know that isolating yourself from all groups may come at a risk. For example, you may find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to updates in medicine or in your field of specialty. That’s because professional societies are effective at collecting physician practice data, consolidating it and sending reports to members. When you’re not part of the group receiving these updates, you can end up out of touch.

For just one example, the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons’ Journal of Arthroplasty publishes results from member surveys on practice strategies. These kinds of news releases can keep you connected with how your peers approach new challenges in medicine and patient care. You can compare your practice to benchmarks, especially if you’re able to take the same survey as others.

Membership benefits can go far beyond any individual physician, and another significant risk of not joining physician associations is being invisible. This isn’t just about you—it is vital to be recognized and acknowledged in the physician workforce, especially if you’re part of an underrepresented group. An article in Surgical Infections provides data about the number of female surgeons based on statistics obtained from the Surgical Infection Society. In cases like these, if you don’t participate, you won’t be counted, and the needs of your group may not be seen and heard.

And minority physicians can make major positive changes by joining forces. An article in the Journal of the National Medical Association describes an initiative spearheaded by the Association of Black Cardiologists to recruit underrepresented racial and ethnic populations in clinical trials of cardiovascular disease, a move that can advance the quality of patient care.

Getting the most out of membership benefits

Still, joining a physician society doesn’t necessarily generate benefits without some strategic effort on your part. If you join an association, consider taking the following steps.

  • Explore your field. Make the time to attend conferences that focus on your niche area of interest. Similarly, to explore many aspects of your field, take advantage of access to lectures and courses to see what clicks for you.
  • Develop your career. You can practice skills like public speaking or teaching by offering to give talks or workshops. And professional associations often arrange leadership training to help you get up to speed as you prepare.
  • Stay up to date. Most importantly, you can access and take advantage of innovative approaches to developing proficiency in new medical techniques—and even people skills. An article in Academic Radiology describes novel tools for assessing and teaching professionalism, a competence that can help any physician at any career stage and is especially important if you mentor others who need career guidance.

A paper published in Health Physics notes that membership has stagnated or declined not only in the Health Physics Society but also in medical societies more broadly, thanks to factors like increased competition for attention, reduced employer support and aging member bases. But that only means that associations will have to take measures to provide even more value to their members.

“Associations are essential for continued progress,” conclude the authors of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery paper mentioned above. With a little planning, you can contribute to and benefit from that progress.

Heidi Moawad, MD