College of American Pathologists
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  President's Desk




June 2007
Looking for a few transformative ideas

Thomas M. Sodeman, MD

The bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.

Gary Hamel, PhD
Strategy as Revolution, Harvard Business Review, 1996

Like all healthy organizations, the College is forever reinventing itself. And while a lot of our activity revolves around services and programs, we are fundamentally a membership organization. So recently, we’ve been looking at member satisfaction and thinking about how well we understand and address what our members need and want.

Professional associations tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach to member benefits. Priorities are set democratically. Those with the most experience articulate organizational goals. This system has worked extremely well for a long time.

More recently, however, we’ve been thinking about things differently. We’ve been looking to see what we can learn from the business-school wonks and marketing gurus and political pollsters with respect to listening more closely to the nuances and preferences that create incentives for collaboration and dialogue. We are, after all, more than a professional organization. We are a community, and that means not only sharing our commonalities but also enjoying our differences.

So the Council on Membership and Professional Development has begun to approach member services and satisfaction in terms of demographic segments. The idea is to identify and address member needs and interests across the professional lifespan. We all want different things at various stages of our lives; it makes sense to approach member services in that way.

They began, of course, with data. The CAP membership continues to grow and our numbers are robust. We now represent 66 percent of all board-certified pathologists (an increase of two percent last year) and 74 percent of pathology residents (a 13 percent increase last year). Our active-practice members fall into four professional generations:

  • In practice more than 20 years:
    35 percent
  • In practice 11 to 20 years:
    24 percent
  • In their first decade of practice:
    25 percent
  • In training:
    16 percent

If we are to serve the members of each demographic group without favoring one over another, we need to refine and strengthen our listening tools. We need to find out what each member segment wants most and needs most and how they want it delivered.

To that end, the College has established a new mechanism for rapid-response, demographically sound member feedback. We have asked 1,700 members to participate in what we’re calling segmented member research panels. Participants are surveyed online up to twice per quarter. Panels are structured according to the number of years in practice, and a separate sample across generations is asked to respond to queries about practice management concerns. The idea is to tailor services and benefits to meet member interests as members move through their professional lifespan, to provide not only what they need most but also to anticipate those needs so the services and benefits are available at the right time.

The concerns of a third-year resident are quite different from those of a first-year resident. The interests of a Baby Boomer are related, but not identical, to those of a Generation X member with young children. How can we help them get what they want when they want it? How can we help them connect to one another in the workplace? Our youngest members are calling for mentors; how can we facilitate that? Our older members want more practice management tools; where are we deficient? The Junior Members are looking for child care at annual meetings so they can bring their families to the meeting; can that be arranged?

The College enjoys a phenomenal level of member involvement: More than one in four practicing members actively participate in the CAP. We work tirelessly for quality in laboratory medicine, for educational excellence in the specialty, for fairness in regulatory and legal matters, and for medical progress across the board. The more we do, of course, the more there is to do, and the better we reflect the nuances of member interests, the more effective we will be.

Which brings me to the quote at the top of this column. Hamel believes that creative ideas are more likely to sprout among sectors at some distance from the leadership. Barriers to change, he says, are most likely found among those at “the top of the bottle” because that’s where you have the people most invested in the status quo. As Richard Chair, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor write in Governance as Leadership: Reforming the Work of Nonprofit Boards, “Since wisdom, knowledge, and experience are widely distributed in an organization, a transformative idea can spring from anywhere.”

We’re looking for a few transformative ideas. We think we might get a few from the segmented member research panels. In fact, we think it’s likely. We promise to apply what we learn, both to improve member services and to focus our advocacy.

In advocacy, however, numbers matter. They matter when we lobby in Washington for meaningful laws and regulations. They matter when we sit down with colleagues at the American Board of Pathology to talk about certification requirements. And they matter when we collaborate with educators on solutions to the challenges of creating curricula that cover an ever-growing landscape of medical progress in our field.

We are proud to be the voice of board-certified pathologists. The better we reflect the interests of our members, the more authoritative our voice will be. That’s where you come in.

If you know someone who does not belong to the College, please talk to him or her about the CAP. Describe the benefits, the opportunities to contribute, to lead, to learn. Tell them that their patients and their colleagues need us, and we need their participation if we are to speak with authority for the profession. Explain that if our voice and message do not resonate, pathology may not grow in the directions we want and with the vigor it should.

Dr. Sodeman welcomes communication from CAP members. Send your letters to him at