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Board members also noted the decrease in volunteerism among our fellows, not only at the national level, but particularly at the state or local level. This appears to be a trend not only in medicine but in all aspects of life. People tend to be involved in things that affect them personally (and life in general seems more impersonal).


Published 1/1/2010

Why I didn’t—and now I do

At the September 2009 meeting of the AAOS Board of Directors, the subject of voter apathy among our fellowship led to a lively discussion. The dismay was prompted by the fact that it’s getting harder to achieve the required 20 percent participation for a valid vote—whether for adopting amendments to the by-laws, adopting resolutions, or selecting members of the Nominating Committee.

People tend to think about only themselves and what is in it for them. I know that’s the way it was for me. I may not be much, but I’m all I think about! So, if that’s the way it is, then it is what it is.

Today, I am much more into what’s going on at the national level in medicine and politics than ever before. As a young physician, I was too busy growing a family and a career to be burdened with “political stuff,” local or national. Besides, I had the attitude that my vote wouldn’t make any difference.

I distinctly remember how proud I was to become a partner in my large orthopaedic clinic and to attend my first shareholder’s meeting. Out of the blue, Fred Sage (one of the great orthopaedic “sages”) said, “Canale, you have a vote, but it don’t mean much!” You know what? He was right.

From then on that was my attitude: “I may be all I think about, but my vote don’t mean much. Too many other people voting. I don’t know enough about the subject to voice an opinion or state my views. Who’s going to listen to me, because in the political world I ain’t much? I couldn’t change the outcome if I wanted to.”

Not only did I not know about the issues, they didn’t seem to be important to me or relevant to my life—they were distant, detached, and far from anything I could do. So I moved through life apathetic-ally, at times not only not voting but even not registering to vote. I bet other orthopaedists can relate to this. This could well be why our AAOS vote is so apathetic and at the 20 percent level.

But not now. It’s a new day, and the issues are front and center right up in my face. Suddenly I feel that they impact my very being, even my next meal, and I think a lot of orthopaedists and Americans feel that way. Why suddenly is this? I don’t think it’s because I’m older or wiser. I don’t think it’s because I moved to Florida and Florida and California are lightning-rod states that locally reflect the national issues.

No, I think I’m part of a trend. Individuals are now better informed by such things as television news channels like FOX and CNN spinning every aspect of the political news; the Internet with its blogs, chat rooms, and Facebook; and multiple talk radio stations.

I am so much better informed that I now know as much about the issues as my elected politicians—and maybe I know more about some of the issues than they do. Suddenly I realize what an impact some of these issues may have on ME!

Because I am informed, understand what’s going on, and want to be involved in the decision-making, not just be handed a decree and told what to do, I want to be a part of the process that hammers out the final version. Thus, like it or not, I have been “spurred” and energized by the media.

Because I’m politically just to the right of Attila the Hun, I have become energized by Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, while I’m sure others to the left of Robin Hood have become energized by Rachel Maddow and James Carville (who, by the way, will be speaking at the 2010 AAOS Annual Meeting in New Orleans in March). It doesn’t matter which side you’re on; what matters is that you’re in the fight.

It’s an old saying that if enough people are in the mix, then the right solution will emerge. I think we are beginning to see that in healthcare policy and other initiatives. We are seeing those who “ain’t much” arguing, debating, and shouting at their elected officials at town-hall meetings because the issues they care about they now know about; they are informed and want to do something about the outcome.

So what does all of this have to do with a fellowship vote of only 20 percent? Well, it’s not too great a leap to realize that the AAOS speaks for us as one strong voice at the national level, so it’s important that we elect strong, innovative leaders and develop future leaders. When we do, we get a Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD, who will respond to the United States president who has the wrong idea about the value of orthopaedic care and the effort that orthopaedists expend working with patients who have diabetes.

Recently Sarah Palin quoted Stuart L. Weinstein, MD—a past president and chair of Doctors for Medical Liability Reform—on the AAOS position on medical liability reform. Ms. Palin found the quote in the September 2009 AAOS Now. If AAOS Now can serve as a forum for those discussions, maybe we can foster dialogue and increase the visibility of the orthopaedic surgeon’s viewpoint.

We certainly intend to try. The AAOS unites all orthopaedists into one voice and supports the concepts we believe in. Individually, we may not be “much” on the political scene, but together we can certainly make our voices heard and let our politicians know what we’re thinking about.