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Ten Easy Steps to Creating Your Local AHCJ Chapter

  1. Anticipate demand: Do a search of the AHCJ member list for members in your area. Unfortunately, there's no way to search within a distance from a particular zip code, but try a search for your own and nearby states to get a sense of how many members are in the area. For example, we have about 100 members in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Not all are within a reasonable distance to travel for a given event, but that gave us some idea. You don't need 100 members, though – you can draw on nonmembers too, and use your events as a recruiting tool (see below).

  2. Gather collaborators: We're all too busy for one person to do all the work. Get 3-4 AHCJ members in your area together over coffee or drinks to make a plan for events, publicity, etc. Put out a call on the AHCJ electronic mailing list letting people know you're interested in starting a chapter. We've found that having one person in charge of each event, and rotating responsibilities, works best.

  3. Identify speakers: You probably know more speakers who can draw a crowd than you think. Local health officials often relish the idea of speaking to a roomful of reporters, and reporters often relish the access. Some examples of who we've had: the head of Bellevue's ER (with an obligatory tour); several faculty of an innovative (if controversial) local hospital's complementary health care center; and President Clinton's point guy on Medicare.

  4. Identify space: Sometimes, this takes care of itself. For example, the Bellevue ER has a conference room, and the director was happy to make it available. Same thing for the complementary health care center. But sometimes you'll need to find a conference room. If one of your local members can arrange space at his or her news organization, it's often a way to raise the group's profile with more journalists. Area health foundations are often very supportive and can provide space. Public buildings may be available: we've used an auditorium at a local library branch. If it's not a conflict, some local law firms may have conference rooms available. For those of you who live in places where people have large living rooms – here in New York we really don't have that luxury – you may consider using a member's home.

  5. Contact speakers: This is probably obvious, but it's worked best for us when someone with a connection to the speakers contacted them. For example, the Bellevue ER director was a med school professor of mine.

  6. Schedule: Be flexible with dates; we're all busy people. Weekday evenings seem to work best for us, but that may vary by region. We have an event about every six weeks.

  7. Publicize: First, ask Len to put out a message to everyone in your area announcing the event. Then, send out your own email to everyone you know who might not be a member. Invite colleagues at your paper/etc. Use other resources – we always post our events on the mailing list of a local medical writer, and generate a lot of interest that way. Then, do like the shampoo instructions say: repeat. People need reminders.

  8. Plan to socialize: As much of a draw as good speakers are, sometimes members just want a chance to network and mingle. So make sure to plan drinks or coffee after the event. We've found that a 6:30 event, with drinks around 8, works, although people tend to drift away to home, as might be expected. But give the option by finding a place that the group will fit. Also, consider a socializing-only event, which is easier to plan, every now and then.

  9. Keep a reliable list of RSVPs: Making RSVPs mandatory – even though it's not like you'll turn people away at the door – will help you plan the event and will make everyone less nervous that no one is going to show up. Designate one point person for RSVPs. You can also use the list of attendees to publicize future events and to follow up with non-members by encouraging them to join.

  10. Collect a bio and introduce the speaker: Pretty obvious. But also gives me an excuse to remind you to follow up with an e-mail or call thanking the speaker for his or her time.

  11. (OK, I lied: it's 11) Enjoy.

-- Ivan Oransky