December marked the year’s end and the half-way point of my presidency. We have had a packed and eventful year, with numerous projects coming to fruition in the last 6 months.
First, the big news. As of January 1st, the AST transitioned to a self-management model. Our society, like many other medical societies and associations, was not self-managed. Instead, we paid a fee to an association management company (Association Headquarters, or AH) to run the AST, pay and employ staff, and provide office space and support services such as accounting and technical support. As the Society continued to grow, it became apparent that we would benefit from a stand-alone organizational model. This allows us to directly employ our own staff, rent our own space, and contract out services where it made sense. The board approved pursuit of this action in August, and I am happy to say that we completed the agreement for transition with AH at the end of December.
We owe AH a great debt of thanks for supporting the AST for many years and finding excellent people to manage the Society.
What will change? Hopefully very little. We came to an agreement with AH, and made direct employment offers to all the staff who were assigned to AST through AH. I am happy to say that all but one transitioned to AST as full time employees on Jan 1, 2017. I believe this is a great vote of confidence in the Society and its mission. Over the next 2-3 years, we will gradually move away from contracting with AH for some remaining support services until we are a fully stand-alone society.
Why did we do this now? The AST has been very busy over the last year and it had become increasingly apparent that we needed a more lithe, efficient organization where we could directly manage costs, expanding quickly and directly as needed. The Society has been fiscally responsible and has stable financials. This allowed us to plan this change without concern. Overall, this transformation will save the AST money, increase staffing (we have already approved 2 new staff positions making the total number of employees 14), and help us mange the change to a more outwardly engaged society.
Some of the year’s accomplishments:
- We hosted the largest ever CEOT meeting, with a dedicated cardiac transplant track. In 2017, we will be offering separate heart and lung tracks as part of this event.
- We established the Transplant Therapeutics Consortium, a joint initiative with the ASTS that brings together academia, industry, and regulatory agencies to address barriers to the development of new therapies in transplantation.
- We created the infrastructure for Power2Save, an initiative that will bring greater awareness to the need for better long-term outcomes and increased transplant research. This included the development of a new website and other marketing materials, with the goal of rolling out a campaign in 2017.
- We hosted two new meetings that included a pediatric transition consensus conference and a new basic science meeting in partnership with the European Society of Transplantation.
- We partnered with 7 different organizations to provide ~ $1.3 million in funding to worthy researchers. This included facilitating two directed grants that totaled more than $527,000.
- We launched a new mentoring program to encourage medical students and residents to explore the field of transplantation by providing travel grants to the 2016 American Transplant Congress.
- We were awarded with the highest rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. This 4 star rating demonstrates AST’s strong financial health and a commitment to transparency and accountability.
- We continued to serve as the go-to resource on Capitol Hill, shaping patient-focused legislation.
I believe 2017 will be another great year for our Society. We plan to continue to move the Power2Save initiative forward with the goal of increasing patient advocacy and raising awareness for more research funding in transplantation. We also plan to increase our outreach to patients through our first Patient Congress next Fall (more on this later). I also remain optimistic that we will finally see the passage of the Immunosuppression Drug Coverage Act in 2017, providing transplant patients with access to these critical medications for the life of their graft.
So what can you do?
Be an active part of your Society at this exciting time. There are many ways to get involved:
- Give to the AST, even if it is a few dollars – giving is equally about the breadth of member participation as it is the amount.
- Encourage your colleagues and trainees to join the AST.
- Join a Community of Practice and participate.
- Support our meetings by attending CEOT 2017 (Feb 23-25), which is just around the corner. This is an excellent smaller meeting that encourages participation and networking at the beautiful Arizona Biltmore.
Lastly, I would like to thank a number of people who have made 2016 a good year for me personally: first of all our wonderful, hardworking AST staff, without whom none of this would be possible; the Board and committee leadership, who give graciously of their time to keep the society running on track; Tim Pruett and Kim Gifford from the ASTS, with whom we have enjoyed a close working relationship; and Bill Applegate along with the staff at Bryan Cave, for their guidance on legislative issues.
I look forward to seeing many of you at CEOT 2017, and working together to continue to grow and enhance the Society. Best wishes for a Happy New Year!