NOTE: Dr. E. Steve Roach’s two-year tenure as CNS President will end at the conclusion of the CNS Business Meeting on Thursday, October 31, at which point his successor, Dr. Nina Schor, will begin her two-year term. Steve will remain on the board for one year as Past-President. Steve volunteered to submit to this interview in lieu of writing a final “Letter from the President.”
1. Is it a lot of work to serve as President of the CNS? If so, where did you find enough time?
Who says I ever found enough time? The last couple of years as President have been rewarding, but it is the kind of job that can consume whatever amount of time you can spare for it. I probably spent about 20% of my time on CNS business, and it might have even been more were it not for that pesky regular job that I have. I owe a huge debt to my colleagues in Columbus, who graciously pitched in, sometimes on short notice, when I needed to devote time to the Society.
2. What is your proudest accomplishment, as President of the CNS?
The CNS President alone can accomplish little. But for the last two years, the Society has had an engaged, active board and a superb office staff, and these individuals deserve a lot of credit. Together we have accomplished a great deal. In the last two years, for example, we hired a new executive director, created a new website, redesigned and renamed the newsletter, and instituted policies and office efficiencies that save the Society a lot of money. But I am probably most pleased with our revitalized working relationship with the Child Neurology Foundation, a more functional partnership that will eliminate some of the past confusion and make it easier for both organizations to accomplish their goals. This was long overdue. I am also pleased with the launch of the Legacy Circle, which recognizes members and other individuals who have made major gifts or bequests to the Society or the Foundation.
I am also pleased with the launch of the Legacy Circle, which recognizes members and other individuals who have made major gifts or bequests to the Society or the Foundation.
3. What were your favorite aspects of the job?
I made lots of new friends and reconnected with some older ones. I am more convinced than ever that child neurologists are a special breed. It was also amazing to see firsthand how the annual meetings come together. Most of us just arrive
at the meeting each year, unaware of the months of advance planning and hard work by the CNS staff leading up to the meeting.
4. What is the most difficult thing you encountered as President of the CNS?
Writing the e-mails announcing the death of several friends and colleagues whom I had known for years. And the website obituary for Roger and Mary Brumback was surely the most difficult thing I have ever written. Roger was the Best Man in my wedding and he and Mary were close friends for many years. Their deaths were devastating.
5. What are the biggest challenges facing the field of child neurology?
We all like to complain, but are our own challenges really worse than those of many other medical specialists? I doubt it. There are a few issues that are unique to pediatric neurology, but like other specialists, we face shrinking reimbursement, increasing demands, and pressure to be more efficient. Medicine is a tough business that is constantly evolving, and every well-meaning attempt to fix something seems only to add extra layers of difficulty. As long as our payment system continues to reward doing things to patients more generously than outsmarting the patient’s problem, we will struggle to cover the cost of doing business. But I suspect that other specialists are just as aggravated as we are.
Our greatest challenge is, and will continue to be, finding ways to adequately fund the activities that are necessary to ensure progress in the profession. I hate the very thought of good research ideas dying for lack of funding, a devoted teacher having no opportunities to teach, or superb clinicians giving up clinical care out of sheer fatigue. We must find ways to sustain these activities if child neurology is to progress.
6. What advice would you give to a graduating medical student, who is just entering the field of child neurology?
I like to think that we are all students; at least this is true for those of us who continue to learn and to question the dogmas that we share. I give the same basic advice to students wrestling with a specialty choice and to residents deciding on a specific career path.
I tell them to find an area in medicine that they love and consider important, and then to pursue it with all the energy and passion they can muster. As difficult as medicine can be sometimes, it still offers challenging work, the opportunity to help other people, and the satisfaction of lifelong professional relationships. Considering the amount of time most of us spend working, finding a discipline that will sustain our interest over a lifetime is critical.
7. In light of the deficit of child neurologists nationwide, how can we attract more young people into the field of child neurology?
Actually, based on the match program data, the number of physicians entering child neurology seems to have increased in the last few years, so the news isn’t all gloom and doom. And the fact that demand for our services keeps increasing isn’t totally bad either; rising demand at least validates that our knowledge and skills are valued by colleagues and families. Of course we still need additional child neurologists, and we need bright, highly committed individuals who will become the future leaders of our field. But we have two huge assets: a vibrant field of study and a cadre of committed, passionate child neurologists. To recruit more child neurologists, each of us should become an ambassador of the profession and share the excitement and passion we feel.
8. Are there any changes that the CNS should enact to better accomplish its goals?
The Society must adapt in order to meet the changing needs of its members, so our goals will continue to evolve. But just as it has become more challenging to fund research, education, and patient care, it has also become more difficult to fund professional societies, their annual meetings, and the ancillary projects that they support. To continue meeting our goals even during periods of economic stress, the Society needs to identify new revenue sources, maintain organizational efficiency, develop functional partnerships with other organizations, and build endowments to support specific projects. We have made considerable progress toward these objectives, but there is still work to be done.
9. Any final comments?
Isn’t that what they ask people who are about to be executed? I want the Society members to know that serving as their President has been an honor and a privilege. I have worked closely this past year with President-elect Nina Schor, and I am impressed with her wisdom and leadership. We also have an excellent Board, and the Society’s new Executive Director is doing a great job. The Society is in good hands.
“I tell (medical students) to find an area in medicine that they love and consider important, and then to pursue it with all the energy and passion they can muster…. Considering the amount of time most of us spend working, finding a discipline that will sustain our interest over a lifetime is critical.”