During my year as ASCO president, I have had the pleasure of traveling around the U.S. and the world representing our Society. Beyond getting to meet so many of our members and learning so much about what’s going on in our field, I have been particularly struck by two comments I’ve heard repeatedly: 1) from those who wish to volunteer, “Who do I have to know to get involved with ASCO activities?” and 2) from those who have volunteered, “My time working for ASCO has been enormous fun and a great honor.”
I realized early in my career that being part of this Society was something I wanted to do, in part because I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with ASCO presidents, such as Dr. Larry Einhorn when I was in medical school at Indiana University, and Drs. Emil (Tom) Frei, George Canellos, Robert Mayer, and Karen Antman during my training at the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute (now the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute). Later, I was fortunate to know past presidents Dr. Allen Lichter as my dean and Dr. Doug Blayney at the University of Michigan
I was also lucky in that, as a very young faculty member, I was doing work on tumor markers, and I was invited to be part of ASCO's first Tumor Markers Expert Panel. This was only the second guidelines panel that ASCO had conducted, and I was involved with that effort for about 23 years. I learned an enormous amount from that experience. Indeed, the process of developing guidelines for tumor markers has contributed almost as much to my academic accomplishments as conducting tumor marker research itself. This activity whetted my appetite to be even more active within ASCO.
In the 1990s, I was first a member, then I was given the privilege to serve as the leader, of the Breast Cancer Track within the Scientific Program Committee over the course of three different ASCO Annual Meetings. Later, Dr. Blayney asked me to serve as the Scientific Program Committee chair for the 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting. As a result of that experience, and encouraged by Dr. Blayney, I ran for, and was fortunate to be elected to, the ASCO Board of Directors. After a wonderful 3 years on the Board, I was sad to see my term end—enough so that I said, "Maybe I could be president of this Society?"
Now, as ASCO president myself, I am frequently asked, "How do I get on an ASCO committee?" Or I get an email from a member who says, "I've got a young person who wants to be on a committee. How can she get appointed?"
You shouldn’t have to know anybody to volunteer for ASCO. You should want to be active, you should be enthusiastic, you should be experienced, and you should want to do the right thing. The problem—and it’s a good problem—is that during the most recent period of committee assignments, ASCO had about 250 open positions, for which 2,000 people had volunteered.
Let me say it again: 250 open positions, 2,000 volunteers. Volunteering for our Society should not be a competitive sport. And this is why, when CEO Dr. Cliff Hudis came on board last year, I walked into his office and asked, “How do we solve this problem?” An hour of brainstorming later, we had the makings of a new program, and Dr. Hudis came up with the name: the Volunteer Corps.
Today, I announced the official formation of the Volunteer Corps during my Presidential Address. You can find the details of this initiative online, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. If you are here at the ASCO Annual Meeting, stop by the Volunteer Corps area in Concierge Services, in the Grand Concourse Lobby, Level 3, North Building, to speak with ASCO staff about how to get involved.
The Volunteer Corps will open an enormous opportunity for members. Some groups within the corps will support existing ACO committees. Some will undertake short-term and virtual assignments that allow for more flexible volunteer time commitments. The program will give new volunteers leadership experience and mentoring, and will help us retain the institutional knowledge and wisdom of members whose formal committee terms are ending. Furthermore, your activities within the Volunteer Corps will earn you points towards becoming a Fellow of ASCO. I must say, becoming a FASCO is, for me, one of my proudest achievements.
Are you a baseball fan? Think of the Volunteer Corps as Triple-A ball. You will be able to select the arena within ASCO that appeals to you, and then become meaningfully involved, even without being named officially to the committee, task force, or other activity. Then, when you have gained experience and demonstrated to ASCO leadership that you are ready for the big leagues, you have generated your own criteria for being chosen. Not because you know the right person, but because you have proven to yourself that that is the activity to which you feel you can most contribute, and to others that you are committed and ready to contribute.
I wouldn’t trade my ASCO experience for all the tea in China, and every member who wishes to contribute should have the opportunity to do so. Volunteering within ASCO is personally and professionally rewarding, and honestly, it’s also fun. But, as with everything we do, volunteering serves a higher purpose: there's a patient sitting there, and we're going to make their care better than it is now.
I’ve attended many committee meetings during my presidential year. I’m always impressed by the fact that these volunteers are here—committing their time, which means sacrificing other professional opportunities—because they are making a long-term investment in the care of their patients, and mine, and yours. They are putting programs in motion that will pay off down the road, and they will be able to say, “I had a hand in that, in improving my patient's care.” I’ll say it now from my standpoint, “My time volunteering for ASCO activities has been enormous fun and a great honor.” Now it’s your turn!