Board Service: Ready Is Just a State of Mind

Someone recently asked me how I knew I was ready for Board service. My immediate response was a half chuckle. For those of you who have children, you’ll understand when I say that the decision to serve on the board is much like making the decision to have children. If you wait until you think you’re “ready,” it will never happen.

In my opinion, “readiness” isn’t really a state of preparation. It’s not about having the minimum number of years of volunteer service or the right degree or the right amount of experience in PA education. Being ready is a state of mind. But I’ll get back to that in a few moments. First, I’d like to share a little about my own journey into Board service.

In 2005, after a little over a decade of experience in clinical practice, most of which was spent serving as clinical preceptor to PA students, I made the decision to join the ranks of PA education full time. It was exciting — and terrifying — and my first two years were filled with the typical learning curve of any educator who comes into this profession from clinical practice.

Once I had my feet beneath me, I began to explore the service opportunities available in national PA organizations. As a practicing clinician, the demands on my time never allowed for professional involvement, so I was excited to pursue new ways in which I could serve my profession. PAEA seemed like the most natural fit for me. I loved the close-knit, personal feel of the PA education community, and I wanted to be a part of advancing our profession.

After a couple of failed attempts to attain a seat on a committee (which was the nomenclature of the volunteer structure in those days), I contacted the staff at PAEA to ask about how I might improve my chances to get involved. The staff was delightful and offered helpful suggestions about what committees might be a good fit for my experience and interests.

Shortly thereafter, just over two years after becoming a PA educator — two years that seemed like 15 minutes — I joined my first committee, then known as the Nominations and Awards Committee. That committee was populated largely by past presidents of PAEA. The roster was a virtual “who’s who” of PA education, and then there was me — a wet-behind-the-ears newbie. At first I was extremely intimidated, but that group of people took me in like I was one of their own. They listened, they respected my opinion, they deepened my understanding of PA education, and they encouraged me to continue to grow professionally.

The following year, the Board made the decision to split this committee into two, the Awards Committee and the Leadership Development and Recruitment Committee, and I was appointed chair of the Awards Committee. A year later, with encouragement from several of my mentors within the Association, I ran for a director at large position on the Board of Directors.

Was I ready? Some might argue “no” — but I believe that I was. At that time, I had been in PA education for just under four years and a part of PAEA for nearly two.

  • Did I have a thorough understanding of the organization? No.
  • Did I know much about any other PA program other than my own? No.
  • Did I have a strong network of professional colleagues in PA education? No.

But I did possess three critical qualities that I believe are fundamental characteristics for embarking upon a successful journey into Board service.

1. Desire to Contribute
Being on the Board means that you will be actively involved in making decisions that move our profession forward. If you gain satisfaction from the work you do at your program, and want to extend that toward the greater good of our community, this is a fantastic way to put your passion to work. You don’t have to know everything about everything. Staff support is excellent and mentorship abounds. You must only be willing to work hard and have the desire to be a part of something bigger.

2. Ability to Think Big
Leading the activities of the Association is strategic work. The issues addressed by the Board require its members to be able to think at 30,000 feet. They require us to look into the future and to attempt to “see around corners” so that we can best position our profession for future success. If you’re a problem solver, a “big picture” person, and if you excel at thinking strategically, you possess the key qualities you’ll need to make strong contributions to the work of the Board.

3. Motivation to Develop
Board service allows members to develop both personally and professionally in immeasurable ways. It allows you to broaden your understanding of PAEA; the PA profession as a whole; PA and medical education; health care; policy and advocacy; and other important topics. You don’t have to be an expert in all topics. By stepping outside of your comfort zone and pushing yourself in new directions, you will broaden your knowledge and experiences beyond what you may have thought possible. If lifelong learning and professional development are important to you, please consider declaring your candidacy for a position on the Board.

Are YOU ready to run for the Board? Perhaps you still don’t think so. But if you possess the characteristics I described above, you’re probably a lot more ready than you realize. Don’t let your doubts keep you from having one of the best experiences of your professional career. Step out of that comfort zone and go for it — you won’t be sorry!