Mary Jo Welker, MD, FAAFP

Learning to Lead: Becoming the First Woman President of the OAFP

My choice of family medicine was a result from three things. First, my experience with family medicine was extensive as I was delivered and cared for by a family physician for many years.  Second, I enjoyed all of my rotations in medical school and could not imagine specializing in just one area. I enjoyed the variety and relationships that are developed in family medicine. And finally, my husband and I discussed it and agreed that we needed more quality family physicians in our community.

My journey with the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians started when I was a resident and was invited by Florence Landis, the executive director at that time, to join the Legislation Commission. It connected me to previous leaders such as Robert Young, MD; Jack Verhoff, MD; Tennyson Williams, MD; and Wilburn Weddington, MD. Their ideas and leadership inspired my passion for family medicine and for patient care. The first American Academy of Family Physicians annual meeting that I attended was when I was a resident. It was held in San Francisco, CA, and Bob Young, MD, was running for a position on the AAFP Board of Directors. From that moment forward, the energy from that meeting fueled my decision to be active in organized medicine.

In addition to being active with the OAFP, I became active with my local chapter, the Central Ohio Academy of Family Physicians. In that role, I was able to lead the chapter’s public relations campaign for family medicine. In addition, it allowed me to become more active with the OAFP as a delegate to the Academy’s annual meeting, which led me to serve on the Board of Directors.

As I moved into a role on the OAFP Executive Committee, I really enjoyed traveling across the state meeting with members from local chapters, medical schools, and residencies to interact with them and listen to their issues. I met some wonderful family physicians during that time and had meaningful interactions with my colleagues on the Executive Committee. I also traveled to other state chapters to attend meetings and engage with other member leaders. It was helpful to see how other state chapters were leading their organizations and to bring those ideas back to Ohio.

When I was installed as the first woman president of the OAFP, the support of my colleagues, fellow officers, and board members was awesome. One of the best things since that time has been the number of women in leadership positions within the Academy.

Being the president of the OAFP led to me to be elected as the delegate to the AAFP. In that position, I was able to meet even more people at the national level and travel to many states. Having served as AAFP delegate, I was able to apply for AAFP commissions and committees which then led to running for and being elected to the AAFP Board of Directors to work on national policy.

In summary, I firmly believe that my journey within the OAFP has helped me lead the Department of Family Medicine at The Ohio State University for the last 20 years. My experiences with the Academy have taught me about leadership, collaboration, and working with people. And to this day, I continue to use those skills in my daily activities with patients and colleagues.

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