In writing my first President's Column for AANnews, I cannot help but reflect on how far we have come as a professional organization and how much work we still need to do. The last two years as president elect have zipped by so quickly, and I am grateful for the experience and time to learn, listen, and work with the many volunteers and outstanding staff of the AAN. Working closely with our Past President Terry Cascino, the AAN Board, and the executive team over the last two years, I can fully vouch for the great team we have in place to help guide us. As we get ready to celebrate our 70th year, I am humbled to start my term as the 35th president of the AAN and plan to emphasize teamwork, distributed leadership, and strategic continuity, as we chart a course for a brighter future.

The founders of the AAN had the wisdom to create a two-year position of president elect so that the person in this role would be intimately familiar with the wide range of issues faced by neurologists and how the Academy was addressing them. Gone are the days when the new president would chart a new path sometimes in different directions. Transitions are so critical and the AAN Board has helped ensure that we have strategic continuity between leadership teams. The recommendations from a variety of taskforces are just getting started, including Solo and Small Practices, International, Wellness and Burnout, and Gender Disparities. Terry Cascino's presidential priorities will continue to be emphasized as we move some of these initiatives into the implementation phase and develop next steps in other priorities.

For 2017, the goals of the AAN remain:

  • Ensure the ongoing health of the profession and the organization to support the unique needs of all members
  • Personalize member communication and the member experience
  • Educate and assist members in providing high-value, quality clinical care in the evolving health care environment
  • Advocate for members and their patients on issues of importance to neurology, including access to high-quality, cost-effective care; research; and fair payment
  • Enhance member satisfaction, well-being, and resiliency with resources that support members throughout their careers
  • Promote neurology and neuroscience research and training

We made great strides in 2016 accomplishing objectives for many of these goals, and they remain very relevant. They will continue to be part of our strategic plan, but the tactics to fulfill them will likely evolve.

We also are continuing our “Wildly Important Goal,” designed to execute a critical Academy-wide strategy during the day-to-day functions or “whirlwind” of what needs to be done:

To demonstrate the value of neurology, neurologists, and neuroscientists.

At the same time, each new president has brought to the table issues he or she strongly believes deserve attention for the good of our members and profession. So, I wish to take this opportunity to share my platform for the next two years.

Meeting the Future Demands for High-quality Neurologic Care

Over many years and AAN presidencies, the Academy has recognized the growing chasm between the supply and demand for neurological care and has taken significant steps to address this. I, too, deeply share this concern. One in six has some neurological issue and this is likely to rise as our population ages. The supply of neurologists will fall 20 percent below demand by 2020. The urgency to expand the neurology workforce pipeline will continue as one of my top priorities. It is a massive and complex task to not only encourage medical students to enter the profession of neurology, but to reach down to our nation's youth and excite them to pursue careers in neurology and neuroscience. We seek to spark in them the same inspiration that led us to become engaged in neurology and neuroscience. We are being helped in this effort by a generous grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to study this specific issue.

The goal of the grant is to increase the number of medical students entering neurology by 25 percent over three years. We also need to increase the diversity of our neurology workforce and leadership to more adequately address health care disparities. The AAN will also continue to invest in leadership training through our Leadership University across a variety of constituents. At the same time, we will continue to enhance the multi-disciplinary neurology patient care team of tomorrow, building on our successful campaign to bring advanced practice providers into our membership so they can improve their skills and working relationships with neurologists and provide high-quality patient care. They are essential to helping to meet the future neurological care demands. Moreover, our advocacy team will continue its efforts to increase patient access through innovative technologies including reducing the barriers to teleneurology.

Enhancing Value and Quality of Neurologic Care

One of the AAN's largest and most ambitious undertakings has been the Axon Registry®, which successfully completed its pilot phase last year. With nearly 1,000 providers from clinics and hospitals now participating, and more being added on a quarterly basis, the Axon Registry will move into phase two and evolve to an essential quality improvement tool. What has been classified as the learning health system, we need to harness the power of this registry to improve the lives of our patients. The registry makes it possible to harness and analyze patient data that neurologists can then use to measure, track and benchmark performance, share best practices and efficiencies, and improve the quality of care. The Axon Registry also provides members an easy way to submit quality data to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for quality reporting, and it is approved by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology as an MOC Part IV PIP Clinical Module activity. The AAN will continue to grow its quality improvement programs and neurology-specific measurement sets.

Expanding Neurologic Research

Understanding the complexity of the brain and the hundreds of disorders that can affect it requires a herculean research effort. While we had great success last year advocating for increases for the National Institutes of Health, the 21st Century Cures Act, and the BRAIN Initiative, those efforts are endangered as Congress wrestles with drastic cuts in the new administration's proposed budget. We will fight those cuts, working in tandem with other associations when suitable. We must unify the many voices of neurology and speak loudly to continue the investment in neurological research. Our annual Neurology on the Hill will continue to be a highlight, but our members must be willing to advocate daily for causes that are important to our profession and patients. We will continue to leverage the power of our political action committee BrainPAC to access members of Congress and educate them on our issues.

The AAN continues to support the growth of the American Brain Foundation with a mission of bringing researchers and donors together to defeat brain disease. We have and will continue to invest our own funds into the best and brightest among our colleagues to develop the Clinical Research Training Scholars and our new Translational Research awards. We need to accelerate cures for neurological disorders and more rapidly translate advances in research from the bench to the bedside.

Expand the Scope of Neurology Practice to Enhance Brain Health Across the Lifespan

Over the last decade, we have made many strides in our mission to treat and prevent neurological disorders. The time is right for us to more effectively expand the scope of neurology practice to include interventional, preventative, and regenerative neurology. The “new neurologist” of the 21st century has many more opportunities to improve the health of individual patients, those at-risk, and take a leading role in caring for populations. We need to inspire young people to enter the field to intervene, treat, and prevent neurologic disease. This neurologist should be equipped with cures for stroke and epilepsy; the ability to modify disease with interventions like deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's; and use of early aggressive treatments that could prevent advancement of such progressive diseases like Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. And we must emphasize regeneration and recovery following intervention, so our patients can resume a life as normal as is possible.

We must promote preventive neurology that may help keep chronic, debilitating diseases like stroke, traumatic brain injury, migraine, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's at bay. The new neurologist would care for those who are “at-risk” of neurological conditions across the lifespan. If we can detect conditions earlier, we may be able to modify transitions from wellness to illness, delaying the disease and even compressing morbidity. Our role should emphasize successful aging, quality of life, and maintenance of brain health.

This is an ambitious platform, but I believe our reach should always exceed our grasp. I will revisit these topics as we make progress over the next two years. Your input is always welcome and you can feel free to email me with your thoughts and concerns. We can only advance as a profession if we work together, openly communicate, and take control of our future. I look forward to working with you, the countless colleagues that volunteer in leadership capacities, and our terrific AAN staff to strengthen our profession and the value that we provide to our patients.