Pathways to Leadership: Five Society Presidents Describe How They Got There

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  • Methangkool, Emily, MD
| Oct 29, 2018

methangkoolFittingly, during the week when former CSA President Linda Mason, MD, FASA, was to be installed as President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) during their 2018 Annual Meeting, five previous society presidents gathered to share their perspectives on their pathway to leadership.

Their panel presentation, titled “You Can Become Your State Society President! Five Women Discuss Pathways, Pitfalls, and Leadership Development,” was moderated by Linda Hertzberg, MD, FASA, CSA Past President and current ASA Director from California, and featured Karen Sibert, MD, FASA, CSA Immediate Past President.

The previous society presidents all had excellent advice to share. Dr. Hertzberg began the panel by stating, “Expect the unexpected – you never know where life will lead you.” Embracing unexpected opportunities is key, but so is showing up and doing the work. She advised finding a niche – for example, communications, advocacy, practice management, etc – and getting involved.

For Maxine Lee, MD, MBA, FASA, Immediate Past President of the Virginia Society of Anesthesiologists and current ASA Director from Virginia, getting involved was easy – at every turn, she found leaders in her society enthusiastic and welcoming. Whenever she asked for help she got it; at the same time, she emphasized, “You can’t have it all; there are opportunity costs. Continued success revolves around finding the proper balance.”

Rose Berkun, MD, FASA and Immediate Past President of the New York State Society of Anesthesiologists, echoed Dr. Hertzberg and Dr. Lee. Dr. Berkun agreed with becoming an expert in a certain area, but stated that “No matter what you choose, you have to be passionate and authentic.” Although getting involved early may lead to more opportunities, it is never too late. “Say yes when the opportunity presents,” she said, “and believe in yourself!” Dr. Berkun mentioned that it is important, for women especially, to fight impostor syndrome, be proactive, show initiative, and not to fear failure. Most importantly, be open-minded and willing to learn.

Deborah Plagenhoef, MD, Past President of the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists, faced additional challenges as only the sixth female president of the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists since it was founded in 1936. For men and women, she advised, it is important to prove oneself – do more than the others. Be assertive, voice your opinions, but also be willing to contribute to solutions. Dr. Plagenhoef said, “Be seen – make yourself invaluable due to your expertise and passion. Stand out in unexpected ways.”

Dr. Karen Sibert closed out the panel by detailing her pathway to the presidency. Part luck, part timing, she moved from being involved at the committee level to Assistant Secretary, then Secretary. However, few secretaries had moved on to the presidency in the past – for Dr. Sibert, she found out what she needed to learn (advocacy, legislative skills, etc) and was present when needed, ultimately leading to her tenure as president in 2017.

These five previous society presidents all had very different paths to leadership, but all were enthusiastic and embraced opportunities when they became available. They took initiative and delivered what they promised. In the end, it allowed them to move to the top of the governance of their respective societies. Despite the completion of their terms, they continue to be involved in both their state societies and the ASA, showing that there is always more to do and exemplifying leadership for both men and women.

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