Supporting Our Professional Associations

Author: James C. McAllister III, MS, FASHP

Mr. McAllister is a health-systems consultant based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


I recently attended the annual meeting of a nonpharmacy professional association, and I was surprised by the attendance. The meeting was excellent, with cutting-edge continuing education and surprisingly strong exhibits, but regrettably, the meeting attendance was little more than half of the usual 6500 registrants.

Both membership overall and financial support from industry have been declining for years in most state associations. More recently, however, even our national pharmacy associations have begun to struggle financially, and active participation of members in association activities seems to be declining.

Many factors have contributed to these changes. From a financial perspective, pharmacy association and foundation investments have fallen dramatically with the deteriorating economy. Journal advertising has been declining for many years, as use of the Internet and alternative mass media has increased. Although meeting attendance has appeared relatively stable, it has not grown recently at the same rates of growth experienced in the past. Marketing budgets of the major pharmaceutical companies have been declining for years, and mergers and acquisitions have further reduced funds available to associations and their foundations. Thus, all health profession associations compete with one another for extramural support.

The national economy and its sequelae have compromised margins for hospitals and health systems, as well as community pharmacies. As a result, travel budgets and financial support of staff participation in professional association activities have been reduced or sometimes eliminated to reduce expenses. Reduced staffing at individual provider organizations also plays a role—increasing pressure on staff to limit their active participation through attending meetings, and sometimes even their remote involvement in association activities.

Perhaps the most challenging emerging phenomenon regarding active participation in associations is the changing professional socialization of students. Changing demographics and career goals contribute to interest in, and ability to, consistently remain active association participants. Whereas schools of pharmacy support students in attending state and national associations, this is seen as a means to seek employment or a postgraduate training experience. In my experience, residency training is the predominant context in which the value of professional association participation is discussed and emphasized.

Given the pressure our associations are under to remain financially viable and continue to pursue their missions, could we be at a dangerous precipice? We are told during our professional education and training that being a good pharmacist requires a commitment to lifelong learning. I suggest that state and national associations have programs and services that more efficiently enable continuous learning than any other alternative.

Pharmacy associations provide the best mechanism for professional policy development and advocacy—one that cannot be achieved by individuals or small groups. Our disparate practices and individual interests sometimes conflict from an advocacy perspective, but surely we can agree that it is critically important to have a professional “voice” as legislators and regulators consider professional issues.

Participating in associations has many benefits for both individuals and their employers. Professional growth is guaranteed. Associations bring together practitioners from a variety of environments. These groups enable debate and practice evolution, recognizing those on the cutting edge of practice and encouraging others to follow. Personally, I have been able to develop a professional network of colleagues and friends on whom I can call for guidance or a second opinion.

My employers have benefited by institutional recognition of the health system as a progressive place to work, thereby enhancing recruitment and retention. Our staff learns from other practitioners around the country who challenge our isolated thinking and help us avoid pitfalls they have encountered and having to “reinvent the wheel.”

We need to support our associations as we work through these tough times and do a more effective job in presenting compelling reasons for active professional association participation to students, colleagues, and most of all, our employers. Will you help?