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President’s Column

Alex Rothman, PhD
Alex Rothman, PhD

Alex Rothman, PhD

What makes a professional society successful? Is it the number of members it attracts?  Although membership size may be a marker of success, numbers alone are likely not sufficient.  In a successful society, members are active and engaged, demonstrating directly and indirectly with their efforts that they support the goals and mission of the organization and are willing to be part of the broader community of individuals who make up the organization. Yet, members can be active only if the organization provides opportunities and reasons to be engaged.

In a recent article in Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice entitled, “Bowling Alone: The Decline of Social Engagement and Other Challenges for the American Psychological Association and Its Divisions,” Bill Robiner, Thyra Fossum, and Barry Hong reflect on the challenges confronting professional organizations in the 21st century as they work to recruit and retain members. Across the myriad recommendations they offer, one theme is clear: for organizations to thrive, they must think carefully about their goals and mission and through their actions be responsive to the needs and expectations of their members.

The sustained success of the Society for Health Psychology can be attributed, at least in part, to the long-standing tradition of the organization’s leadership to take time every few years to think carefully about our goals and mission. Over the past six months, the Long Range Planning Task Force has been charged with developing a new plan that will guide the efforts of the Society over the next few years. Discussion of the proposed plan was the primary focus of the Society’s Midwinter Executive Committee meeting this past January.

As I told those at our meeting, we are extremely fortunate that as we consider potential opportunities and imagine new initiatives, we do so from a strong foundation. The Society for Health Psychology is not only one of the largest divisions within APA, but at a time when many divisions are losing members we have either remained stable or continued to grow. For example, at the end of 2015, we had 3,281 dues paying members, which was a 10% increase from 2014.

Moreover, at a time when APA divisions are grappling with the challenges of recruiting early career professionals, we have a talented and growing cohort of early career professionals, many of whom have taken on positions of leadership. In addition, our graduate student membership continues to grow and we now have 59 graduate student campus representatives at institutions throughout the country. There is reason to believe that with our new membership initiative, Congratulate Your Graduate , these positive trends will only continue.

Member input has been and will continue to be an important part of the planning process. More than 20% of you took the time to complete the member survey that was distributed this past November. The survey showed that our Society is the primary home within APA for our members (73%) and that our members value the programs we currently offer, with our flagship journal, Health Psychology, receiving the highest rating.

At the same time, there are a range of programs that are seen to have value, but are not as actively used, such as our social media accounts (i.e., Twitter, Facebook) and our networking opportunities. Consideration will need to be given to how we might facilitate greater engagement with these services.

There was also considerable interest in several potential new initiatives, such as online continuing education programs, a practice-oriented journal, and a range of training opportunities (e.g., leadership, grant writing). Again, further consideration will need to be given to the viability of these new efforts.

In March, the Long Range Planning Task Force will post a draft version of the Plan for comment. Please keep your eye out for information about this opportunity and take a moment to share your perspectives.

While the Long Range Planning Task Force is focused on the future, many members of our Society have been busy working on initiatives for 2016. Thanks to the creative work and leadership of Shawna Ehlers (2016 APA Program Chair) and Joanna Buscemi (2017 APA Program Chair), the Society has an exciting program in place for the 2016 APA convention.  More details about the program will be released later this spring. However, if you can’t decide whether to join us, I strongly recommend Dan Bruns’ “Ode to Denver ” (in this issue) in which he lists at least 25 reasons to come to Denver.

In 2010, under the leadership of President Chris France, the Society made a commitment to forging broader and deeper connections between our organization and health psychologists outside of the United States. Soon thereafter we created a membership category for International Affiliates and began a Distinguished International Affiliates program to mirror our APA Fellows program. I am delighted to recognize our four new Distinguished International Affiliates for 2016: Mark Conner (University of Leeds), Denise de Ridder (Utrecht University), Marie Johnston (University of Aberdeen), and Theresa Marteau (Cambridge University).

Due to the tireless efforts of Betsy Seng and Zina Trost, we have just launched a new program with the International Society for Behavioral Medicine that supports opportunities for international collaboration – the 2016 Health and Behavior International Collaborative Award.  Please read more about the award  in this issue, and note that the application deadline is March 30, 2016.

Finally, the quality of the individuals who are standing for election this year for President and for Member-at-Large are another sign of the strength of this Society. Many thanks to the Nominations & Elections Committee led by Charles Emery who recruited this outstanding slate of candidates. Please take a moment to review their statements and participate in the election when it opens in April.