Ambitious Goals Set for ASN in 2009

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ASN President Thomas M. Coffman, MD, FASN, sets forth society goals in publishing, education, public policy, research, and partnering with other organizations. Coffman is chief of the division of nephrology at Duke University.

It is my great privilege to serve as president of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) in 2009. As members of ASN, we owe a debt of gratitude to the previous leaders of the Society who have provided outstanding guidance and stewardship, allowing ASN to reach its current levels of prominence and success.

In particular, Peter S. Aronson, MD, FASN, and William L. Henrich, MD, FASN, deserve special thanks for their leadership during the past two years in helping to steer the Society through several important transitions. For example, new Editors-in-Chief were appointed for the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN) and the Nephrology Self-Assessment Program (NephSAP). Through this transition, JASN remains the highest-rated, most highly cited nephrology publication in the world, while NephSAP continues to set the standard for continuing medical education (CME) and maintenance of certification (MOC) in our subspecialty. We anticipate that the quality and stature of these journals will continue to rise as our new editorial teams hit their stride. In addition, a new organizational structure for ASN educational activities produced the highest quality Renal Week, Renal WeekEnds, and Board Review Course and Update in the recent history of the Society, based upon participant evaluations of these meetings.

ASN has successfully navigated these several recent transitions, and it is my hope that with your help we can accomplish the following “top 10 list” of goals for 2009.

Launch ASN Kidney News

With this issue, ASN debuts a newsmagazine aimed at summarizing issues relevant to the nephrology community. To this end, we have hired Pascale H. Lane, MD, FASN, as the founding editor-in-chief and Dawn McCoy as managing editor, along with a talented editorial board assembled by Dr. Lane. The editorial team plans to develop articles addressing a range of areas important to health professionals in nephrology. This coverage will span new clinical developments, epidemiologic findings, federal and state policy updates, practice management, industry trends, and opinions from leading nephrologists and other policymakers. ASN Kidney News will also expand the Society’s reach through circulation to nurses, allied health professionals, and administrative staff who work in our field.

Publish the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN) monthly

In the short time since its launch, CJASN has established itself as a clinical science journal of outstanding quality, receiving official recognition from Pub Med in 2007. In view of progressive increases in manuscript submissions, CJASN will join JASN as a monthly publication beginning in January 2009. Moreover, ASN will uncouple both journals so that Society members, other subscribers, and libraries will start to receive each publication separately (as opposed to receiving one big, unwieldy package). This move will solidify our original vision for CJASN and continue its trajectory as an independent and dynamic publication.

Implement a new brand identity for ASN

In view of the changes and evolution of our Society during the past decade as well as to help achieve our future goals, ASN is working to develop a new brand identity. This effort consists of surveys, focus groups, and meetings carried out with the assistance of a public relations firm. The objective of these efforts is to heighten the society’s image and visibility in order to facilitate, among other things, our ability to advocate on behalf of our membership. The new brand identity will include a new logo and tagline, while maintaining the current color scheme to lend a recognizable ‘ASN’ feel.

Enhance and foster growth of the ASN website

As users have no doubt noticed, ASN has made a concerted effort to improve its website (www.asn-online.org), attempting to make it more attractive, easy to use, and more relevant for our membership. Through the efforts of a number of individuals, including a working group led by ASN Councilor Ronald Falk, MD, FASN, and our interim web editor, Jerry Yee, MD, FASN, the website now incorporates new content modules and supports emerging functionality, offering the ability to join ASN, to renew ASN membership online, and to update personal demographic information instantly.

This progress will continue in 2009. Helping members earn CME credits and MOC points through the website will be a particular area of emphasis. The ASN Education Committee created a task force—chaired by David J. Salant, MD—to oversee this process and to develop mechanisms to help members earn points through parts two (self-assessment) and four (practice improvement) of MOC. We plan a number of other enhancements providing educational opportunities, linkage to publications, and on-line self-assessment examinations for NephSAP. Please log in early and often to follow our progress.

Continue to expand and strengthen the ASN public policy operation

Several years ago, ASN launched a significant effort to augment its activities in public policy and advocacy. Led by the ASN Public Policy Board and including the Society’s committees and advisory groups, ASN now manages a broad policy portfolio. These efforts are focused on helping the Society’s members provide high-quality care to patients, conduct groundbreaking medical research, and educate the next generation of nephrologists.

In the first instance, as a member of Kidney Care Partners (KCP), ASN advocated for and shaped the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (HR 6331) and worked to ensure that the bill included several provisions of importance to the renal community, including increased reimbursement to nephrologists who provide comprehensive education for chronic kidney disease (CKD). ASN and KCP also contributed in a meaningful way to the bill’s end stage renal disease (ESRD) reform measures.

ASN is a member of the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research Funding, which advocates for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and became a member this year of the executive committee of the Friends of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Care and Health Research. Through these and other independent efforts, we have continued to actively engage leadership at NIH and key members of Congress to advocate for increased funding for research into causes, prevention, and treatment for kidney diseases.

At a nonfederal level, ASN will increase its interaction with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and the Residency Review Committee for Internal Medicine (RRC-IM), the American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), and other entities that oversee the quality of the educational continuum. As one recent example of these efforts, the ASN Training Program Directors (TPD) Executive Committee (which is chaired by Donald E. Kohan, MD, PhD) is working with RRC-IM to constructively revise the ACGME requirements for nephrology fellowships. Furthermore, in April 2009, TPDs and the National Board of Medical Examiners will roll out the first national in-training examination for nephrology fellows.

Empower ASN committees and advisory groups

ASN’s network of committees and advisory groups provides a powerful mechanism for harnessing the talent and energy of our diverse membership. These groups span the range of interests and constituencies that characterize our society; in the past year, new groups have been constituted, including the Glomerular Diseases Advisory Group and the ASN Web Presence Working Group, discussed above.

Taken together, our committees and advisory groups serve critical functions to inform our decisions and strategies in policy, education, research, and publications. They provide critical insights and advice to the ASN Council in our efforts to develop and expand services of value to each of the myriad constituencies within ASN. I urge you as members to participate actively in these panels.

Increase the Society’s annual research grant portfolio to $3,325,000

As a result of Dr. Aronson’s able leadership over the past several years, ASN has improved every aspect of its grant program, from the amount of funding to the application process and review procedures. Recognizing the challenges for research funding in the current environment, the ASN leadership has attempted to build a substantive financial corpus that can be used to provide support to key vulnerable areas in kidney research, focusing particularly on young investigators and on providing bridge funding to support more senior investigators during the requisite interruptions in funding that characterize today’s funding cycles.

During the next year, when ASN Councilor Joseph V. Bonventre, MD, assumes oversight of the ASN Grants Program, the Society will continue to build on these improvements and increase its efforts to promote the availability of funding. Along with our active grant program, we will continue our strong advocacy on Capitol Hill for expanded funding for kidney research at NIH, VA, and other federal agencies.

Maintain strong separations between planning and funding of high-quality CME for ASN members

The original objective behind the formation of ASN was to organize an annual meeting to facilitate dissemination of new advances in the science of nephrology. Education has remained a major part of our mission while the educational offerings of the ASN have expanded considerably, now including a variety of high-quality CME programs.

In recent years, like other medical societies that provide CME, ASN has become increasingly dependent on industry support for our core educational missions. While we are grateful for this support, this reliance has raised concerns from Congress, the media, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME, which accredits CME providers, such as ASN), and others about potential influence—both real and perceived—on the objectivity and integrity of teaching, learning, and practicing medicine. During the summer of 2008, ASN responded to a “formal inquiry” from ACCME that examined the firewall between planning and funding the Society’s educational activities. As we expected, ACCME determined that ASN already has appropriate systems for checks and balances in place.

However, this inquiry, along with the steady tightening of ACCME rules and the broader concerns about interactions between physicians and industry, has stimulated the Society to further strengthen its mechanisms for protecting the content of Renal Week, Renal WeekEnds, Board Review Course and Update, and other educational activities (such as web-based material).

At the same time, ASN recognizes the need to maintain meaningful and productive relationships with industry. These partnerships benefit all involved—including patients. To help ensure this balance, ASN in 2008 established a committee on corporate relationships chaired by John B. Stokes, III, MD, FASN. I am confident that with the guidance of this committee and by maintaining transparent relationships with our corporate partners and regulatory agencies, we will continue to provide high-quality and relevant CME to our members while avoiding inappropriate external influences on our educational programs.

Promote positive external relationships with other professional societies

The nephrology community is faced with a number of pressures that affect our ability to deliver patient care, to conduct research, and to educate the next generation of nephrologists. These challenges range from expanding regulations to contracting budgets. Therefore, it is imperative that we have productive and robust relationships with our sister renal societies and the constellation of other professional societies with whom we share common goals and interests.

We are much stronger working together with like-minded organizations than we would be on our own. Thus, we have and will continue to seek out opportunities to partner with other groups to achieve our aims.

These alliances include the American Society of Pediatric Nephrology, National Kidney Foundation (NKF), and the Renal Physicians Association—our partners in KCP—with whom we worked to ensure the success of HR 6331. We have also partnered with NKF to coordinate visits of nephrologists and patients to Capitol Hill on World Kidney Day. We are working with the American Society of Transplantation (AST) to accredit transplant fellowships across the country. In addition, we provide joint research grant funding with the Alaska Kidney Foundation, AST, the Association of Specialty Professors, and the Halpin Foundation.

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Likewise, we have contributed to the International Society of Nephrology (ISN) Commission for the Global Advancement of Nephrology Fellowship program and participated in ISN’s Global Outreach Programs and Renal Sister Center Program at Renal Week. For several years, we have sponsored “mini-fellowships” and travel grants for Renal Week with the Sociedad Latinoamericana de Nefrologia e Hipertension (SLANH) as well as helped administer the Women in Nephrology’s Professional Development Seminar Travel Grant. In 2008, we provided sponsorship for the American Association of Kidney Patients Medical Excellence Award. During 2009, ASN must strengthen these relationships, continue to be a leading citizen in the renal community, and identify new partners to help achieve our shared missions.

Develop an outstanding program for Renal Week 2009 in San Diego, CA

Renal Week is the crown jewel of ASN, providing a lively mix of science, education, and camaraderie that attracted more than 13,000 participants last year. Raymond C. Harris, MD, FASN, will serve as chair of the Program Committee for the 2009 meeting. He has assembled an outstanding Program Committee consisting of international experts in basic and clinical sciences who have already begun their work to develop an exciting and ambitious program. Ray will work in collaboration with Mark E. Rosenberg, MD, the education director for Renal Week and chair of the Post-Graduate Education Committee, to assemble a program that will deliver spectacular new science along with exciting and engaging educational opportunities. The program will include some of the world’s most outstanding clinical and basic scientists, who will present their latest findings to attendees in a beautiful venue.

In closing, I want to express my sincere gratitude for the remarkable contribution of our members, committees, advisory groups, boards, and staff during 2008. The strength of our Society is truly found in the talent, energy, and dedication of our diverse membership. We have an ambitious agenda for 2009, but I am confident that working together, we can accomplish our shared goal of improving patients’ lives through research, education, and clinical care.