How to Get Involved with Specialty Societies

William N. Levine, MD, FAAOS | Daniel Osei, MD, MSc, FAAOS

December 8, 2021

For many orthopedic trainees and surgeons early in their career, active participation within their respective or future specialty societies is one of many career goals. Many years into practice, the memories of being a trainee in the audience of numerous annual meetings are still vivid, captivated by respected orthopedic leaders on the podium, soaking in the wisdom imparted by their words, and wanting to emulate the vocational excellence they displayed. At the time, the gulf between us and these “giants” of orthopedic surgery seemed near impossible to traverse.

The goal of this post is to share some perspective that may help demystify the process of getting involved with orthopedic societies and perhaps more importantly, help young orthopedic surgeons enjoy the process along the way.


In orthopedics as in many other competitive occupations, a singular focus on excellence or exceptionalism can lead a young surgeon to undervalue other qualities that are required to be successful within his or her specialty society. Excellence is necessary, but ultimately insufficient. Societies are effective when the collective works together, learns together, and grows together in the service of others. To borrow from the popular Broadway show “Hamilton”, wanting to get involved with a specialty society because you want to be “in the room where it happens” is unlikely to be successful. [i]Humans are social animals and we tend to know when someone is genuinely interested and invested as opposed to approaching relationships and professional interactions transactionally.

So what does work? A great insight comes from the Simon Sinek book Start With Why in which Sinek explores the concept that leaders (and companies) that focus on why they do what they do rather than simply what they do, and how they do it are far more successful, more effective, and more inspirational[ii]. For young surgeons interested in getting involved with specialty societies, this is a valuable lesson. Start by asking yourself why you want to be involved with your specialty society. By doing so, you will be able to verbalize your interest in a more genuine manner. Senior surgeons will be inspired by your vision and passion and want to get you involved. They will want to invest in you. Put another way, developing and communicating a sense of purpose is critical. Not only will this help open doors, but having a strong sense of purpose helps the young orthopedic surgeon feel more confident, less insecure, and is a wonderful antidote for burnout in the workplace.

Dan’s List- Why I wanted to get involved in society leadership

  • Strong desire to give back by paying it forward
  • Strong belief in the concept of servant leadership
  • Interest in playing a role in pushing our specialty forward 
  • Desire to learn new skills (leadership, fund raising, governance)
  • Core value- volunteerism is important and benefits the person who volunteers as much as the organization
  • Belief that increased society level engagement will increase job (and life) fulfillment

Bill’s List- Why I wanted to get involved in society leadership

  • Meet and learn from senior leaders (early in your career)
  • Prepare you for leadership roles in your group, department, institution
  • Further hone your clinical skills by interacting with leaders in your subspecialty
  • Enhance your international relationships and broaden your horizons
  • Begin mentoring next generation of leaders
  • Positively (hopefully!) lead the organization with committee involvement and perhaps presidential line involvement

Tips for sustained success in specialty societies

Getting involved in your society is not a one-time event. As challenging as it may seem to get an initial opportunity, staying involved can be equally challenging. Fortunately, most of the rules for success in societies are the same as in life. While there are nuances that differ depending on one’s particularly specialty and the individuals currently in leadership, showing up on time, being reliable, and getting tasks done are almost always going to be the more important factors towards sustained success and being asked to have greater levels of engagement within your society. When things go wrong, be accountable. If you don’t hold yourself accountable, your society leadership probably won’t either. When committee members are evaluated by committee chairs and society leadership, lack of reliability and accountability are the two most common reasons why members are not asked to remain on a committee or are not asked to be involved with new committees.

Find a mentor (or mentors)

While almost every interested orthopedic surgeon has valuable skills that would benefit his or her society, successful integration into one’s specialty society will not be born of talent alone. Mentorship and advocacy, just as in clinical practice, plays a large role in determining success and advancement. A mentor can help a young, interested surgeon get a first committee assignment, and help a surgeon grow their professional network by introducing him or her to other society members both nationally and internationally. A diverse array of relationships are required for advancement in any organization, and orthopedic societies are no exception. In addition, a mentor can help interested surgeons learn some of the non-medical skills necessary for effective society participation such as communication and governance skills, and can help the young surgeon integrate more seamlessly into the society’s culture. Conversely, don’t let your mentor down. If they go out of their way to promote you for a position, be honest and make sure it is the right time in your career/life and that you can devote the necessary time, energy, and passion to make yourself and your mentor proud.

As orthopedic surgeons, we are blessed to work in a field that offers incredible opportunity to “add value” to the world around us by helping others. Orthopedic specialties serve to help individual surgeons fulfill this vocational call and in doing so provide a wonderful service to its respective members as well as the greater community. The mission statement of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery is a succinct reminder of this singular overarching goal: Serving our profession to provide the highest quality musculoskeletal care. To a young orthopedic surgeon looking for inspiration as to why they wake up every morning to go to work, orthopedic specialty societies can help define his or her sense of purpose. Young surgeons should also consider active participation in specialty and sub-specialty societies as a wonderful opportunity to give back, to engage more deeply in the inner workings of his or her specialty, to learn new skills, and to leave the specialty a little better than it was at the beginning of his or her career.  

[i] Miranda, Lin Manuel. Hamilton: An American Musical. Atlantic Records, 2015

[ii] Sinek, Simon. Start with Why. Penguin Books, 2011.

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Levine is on the Columbia faculty, serves as Board or committee member for the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons, and is on the editorial or governing board for the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Dr. Levine serves as an unpaid consultant to Zimmer Biomet. Dr. Osei has no active consultant relationships, Committees: ASSH Council, Member at Large; ASSH Publications and Products Advisory Committee; ASSH Diversity Committee; Co-Chair ASSH Research Management Committee; Associate Editor, Journal Hand Surgery.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2021 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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