Promises, Plans, and Participation

It has been seven months since our annual meeting and I’m more than halfway through my presidential year –yes, time does fly when you’re having fun!! When I assumed the reins as president, I outlined activities and goals that I hoped to accomplish during my address at the annual meeting. One of goals was to create a new strategic plan for the ASC that could serve as a roadmap for the society for the next five years. Maybe you inwardly groaned a bit when you heard the words “strategic plan” – you might share the same view as California governor Jerry Brown who once said “The reason everyone likes planning is no one has to do anything.” Some plans do end up sitting on the shelf and collecting dust, but that is not what any of the officers or Executive Board members intend to happen with our society’s plan. A strong working plan is important – it enables the ASC to live up to its promise to members that this is the organization that can best meet the needs of our subspecialty, particularly in our rapidly changing healthcare scene. The framework provided in a strategic plan also ensures that big picture goals and priorities are not forgotten during our frequent leadership changes since officers and EB members change fairly quickly. There will always be lots of good new ideas for what the ASC could or should be doing, but inevitably, there will never be enough money, people or time to implement every idea. Having a good strategic plan will help leaders after me make wise and strategic decisions so that the society stays on course.

So what’s been going on in creating our strategic plan?? The plan is well-underway, thanks to your participation and the enthusiastic work of the Executive Board. As you may remember, we conducted an electronic survey in March in which members were asked to prioritize several thematic areas identified from a variety of documents, such as the ASC’s Future of Cytology report, previous membership surveys, and reports from other organizations. I found it interesting – and reassuring – to see that our cytopathologist and cytotechnologist members share the same top three priorities and interests: Patient-centered cytologic services that are safe, evidence-based, and support personalized diagnosis and treatment; Leadership in setting professional quality standards to ensure diagnostic excellence; and Advocating for the cytology profession to ensure an appropriate workload and work environment, laboratory safety and quality, and reimbursement. The survey also asked our members’ opinion of the ASC’s current mission and vision statement. Though most responded that they thought our mission and vision statements were relevant to our society and strategic priorities, less than 60% of the respondents considered these inspiring or liked them as is, and only 54% thought these statements differentiated us from other societies.

The Executive Board used your helpful insights from this survey during a half-day strategic planning session on May 2. We were fortunate to have an outstanding and highly experienced facilitator, Beril Basman, leading our discussion. Ms. Basman served as the Vice President of Strategic Planning for the American Dental Association for 14 years, and now has her own private consultancy. Her previous clients include the American Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Illinois State Medical Society, Society of Vascular Surgery, and others. As Ms. Basman pointed out to us, vision statements are supposed to be aspirational and define where an organization wants to go, while a mission statement defines the purpose of an organization and how it wants to achieve the vision. After much discussion regarding our activities and priorities as a profession and as a society, as well as the trends that are affecting our field, the EB developed the vision slogan “Saving lives one cell at a time”. The EB is excited about this slogan – it’s not only catchy and inspiring, it conveys the essence of our membership’s work, and illustrates our emphasis in and role in high quality patient care to achieve the important goal of saving lives, as Pap testing illustrates well. The EB plans to expand this slogan into a vision statement and incorporate this concept into our strategic plan. With these thoughts in mind, the EB then reviewed the current mission statement and agreed with the members’ survey responses that the current the ASC mission statement was still relevant, but that it could benefit from some tweaking. In particular, the EB wanted to emphasize our unique team-based practice, as well as our focus on ethics, quality, and public/population health. As a result, the following revised mission statement has been proposed which EB intended to capture our values, purpose, and activities: The ASC promotes education, research, advocacy and professional ethics by the cytopathology team to achieve the best healthcare for individuals and communities worldwide.

Also in our strategic planning session, we reviewed the existing goals from our last strategic plan. Ms. Basman reminded us that strategic goals need to be “directional”, measurable within an established timeframe, and regularly reviewed and modified. The ASC’s strategic plan has consisted of three organizational goals (Education, Advocacy, and Research) which define our priorities, and the EB has drafted some new strategies and tactics for each of these. These new strategies and tactics all need additional discussion and fine-tuning to create a final plan, but as currently written, the Education goal includes identifying our members’ top three learning gaps and addressing these through new programs and new educational technologies and delivery methods. The Advocacy goal is centered on promoting prevention and early detection of disease for the public as well as defining standards for the practice of cytopathology for the profession. The Research goal was the most challenging to define. The EB concluded that the Research goal could not be fully addressed until the society better defined its research priorities. In other words, in which areas should the ASC focus its research-related interests? Should there be an emphasis in health care delivery science, best practices, patient outcomes, and/or translation of basic science discoveries into clinical application? And should the ASC continue to fund small individual projects, or should we focus on larger more impactful projects which may require collaboration with other larger organizations? Lastly, the EB added four additional goals to our strategic plan: Quality which includes the development of quality metrics and benchmarks or guidelines for the profession; Membership since a strong membership is necessary for a healthy society; Financial which includes fundraising goals for the Foundation, cost-efficiencies, and new revenue-generating products in order to support the society’s activities; and Organizational in which the ASC’s structure, governance, and processes are evaluated regularly for effectiveness and to address any necessary changes in bylaws, job descriptions, roles of volunteer or EB members.

As you can see, there is still a lot to be fleshed out to create a strong plan for the society and this will include identifying tactics and activities to make all of the goals a reality. But I think we’re off to a great start. The EB really enjoyed the strategic planning session and we all found that it prompted us to think about the ASC in new ways. The EB will continue to work on the plan in the months to come, and I intend to have a more complete plan to share in November at our annual meeting. Many key tactics to achieving our strategic goals are already in place. An important tactic for many of our goals is our new collaborative relationship with the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). As you’ve seen in press releases and in other communications, like this blog and in the ASC Bulletin, the ASC is now the official cytology provider for the ASCP. We’re excited about this opportunity to have an even bigger impact since this relationship gives us access to the ASCP’s considerable resources to expand our reach and provide even higher quality programs. The new Journal of the American Society of Cytopathology will also be a key tactic in achieving our strategic goals. The contract has been signed with Elsevier, the Editor-in-chief and Associate Editors have been appointed, and we’re planning our first issue for 2014.

Your participation continues to be important as we develop our strategic plan – the EB, officers and I all want to know what you think of the new vision and mission statements that I’ve described above, and where you think we should be going with our goals. What learning gaps should we address and how can the ASC effectively provide you with this education? Where should we focus our research priorities? How should we address quality and advocate for this? How can we live up to the promise of our organization, established 60 years ago? There are lots of other questions where your input would be valuable, too. I encourage you to post a response on this blog, use our new discussion board, and of course, there’s always the good ole list-service, e-mail, and good old-fashion letters. Our Diamond Anniversary is the beginning of a new chapter for the ASC and we want you to help shape it — the EB and I look forward to hearing from you!!

Lydia Pleotis Howell MD, ASC President