Tamara Fountain, MD: Lessons in leadership
SAN FRANCISCO — The people who are tapped for leadership in medical associations are those who demonstrate dependability and durability. In other words, they show up. Tamara R. Fountain, MD, has been showing up since beginning her career as an oculoplastic surgeon, not necessarily looking for leadership positions, but those opportunities found her all the same.
“Generally speaking, sometimes leadership opportunities come around in life just because you stick around long enough,” Fountain told Healio/OSN.
At the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (ASOPRS) meeting, Fountain received the Robert H. Kennedy Presidential Award for her service as immediate past president of the society. That is just one character she has played in a long list of leadership roles at local and national levels, not only at ASOPRS but also at the Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company (OMIC), Women in Ophthalmology (WIO), Illinois Association of Ophthalmology, Chicago Ophthalmological Society and American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Fountain is expected to take office as AAO president in 2021, leading more than 30,000 members. Healio/OSN talked with Fountain about how and why she is where she is.
People who become leaders simply have a desire to volunteer and contribute, Fountain said.
“I don’t know that most leaders in societies started their careers thinking, ‘I want to be president of that organization. I need to do what’s necessary to get there.’ They just want to help. Many people start when they are young or new to an organization, but it’s never too late to get involved. There is always work to be done and the need for people to do that work. It may be unglamorous and tedious, but you are willing to do it because you want to help,” Fountain said. “Then if you provide a good work product, people remember you. They think, ‘she’s reliable’ or ‘she answers her email,’ and it builds from there.”
“It was never my goal to ascend to leadership in these organizations. For me, it was just a sense that I loved what I did clinically, but I also loved working in an organizational structure,” Fountain said.
For Fountain, working solely in a clinical environment did not completely fill the need for camaraderie and kinship, and with every organization, her involvement has been different.
“My approach to an organization has depended on the culture. Being a leader in ASOPRS was different than being a leader at AAO or OMIC because they have different needs and different organizational structures,” she said.
As membership in ASOPRS grows — some 900 people attended the meeting — completely satisfying the needs of all members can become more of a challenge.
“People in the aesthetic space may not get as much out of this meeting as if they would at a purely cosmetic meeting. If you are an academic orbit surgeon, you may not have as much need for the live filler injections sessions,” Fountain said. “We are getting big enough where we must continuously focus on providing fresh clinical content that appeals to the different viewpoints and practice styles of our expanding discipline. If attendance numbers are any indication, ASOPRS appears to be doing this well.”
The lifeblood of any organization, whether it is AAO or ASOPRS or WIO, is in the next generation, Fountain said.
“You need to welcome them, nurture them, make them feel comfortable and ingrain in them the value of that organization for the life of that organization. I have felt strongly about that no matter where I’ve been; leadership must be accessible to the younger members,” she said.
What it takes to succeed
Fountain continues to see patients full time in a private practice and as part-time volunteer faculty at Rush University, so efficient time management is a critical component to leadership success.
“A lot of what we organizational volunteers do is after hours and online,” she said. “It’s a second job for all of us. You do the work on nights and weekends and between patients during the day.”
But whether fulfilling a personal need for kinship, a love for the job or a need for recognition that a job is well done, successful leadership starts with showing up: “I’m here. How can you use me.” – by Patricia Nale, ELS
Disclosure: Fountain reports no relevant financial disclosures.