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Learning to Lead

by on October 3, 2014

SACALead 2014 group picture
The past week has been an absolute blur. Playing feature roles in my life right now: 32 recently added Facebook friends, a long-yet-lengthening to-do list, a cascade of new books on my kitchen table, and a suitcase that I still have not unpacked. Sleep seems to be something only done on weekends. Fortunately, the weekend just arrived, so allow me to take off my tie and fill you in.

Let me backtrack one year. As a member of the Student American Chiropractic Association, I attended my first SACA Leadership Conference. My aspirations and goals got three straight days of jump starts from speakers who inspired me to think of more unique ways to contribute to health and chiropractic, students who engage at the highest levels in everything they do, and mentors looking to provide the leadership skills that we needed to put that energy into action. My two friends and I talked through the whole flight home about how to bring this experience to a whole lot more people a year later.

Students connect over drinks, dinner, and a view of Roanoke

Students connect over drinks, dinner, and a view of Roanoke

Well, that “one year later” fell last weekend. In the interim, one of those classmates and I became Chairs of the conference, and last Thursday we welcomed 100 students from 14 chiropractic campuses to the 11th Annual Leadership Conference. With us as chairs, New York Chiropractic College played the part of host school, but the event was held at the Roanoke,VA, headquarters of Foot Levelers, an orthotics company that demonstrates great support for chiropractic education. After flying out from  New York’s chilly fall temperatures, arriving in scenic Roanoke was a warm welcome indeed.

The first order at the annual conference is the SACA business meeting. As the student segment of the American Chiropractic Association, we tackle many issues of a national scale, including health legislation, military affairs, and keeping chiropractic students connected to each other. The meeting, while not our most exciting feature, keeps our far-flung chapters well-aligned. We also held elections for our new national executive board- but that’s for another blog post. After meeting all day, Foot Levelers CEO Kent Greenawalt ushered us into his grand Roanoke home for a reception that brought together the different chapters, leaders, and mentors in picturesque fashion. The event gave us students time to connect socially, and set a gracious, genuine, and social tone for the rest of the weekend.

A flyer for some of our 2014 leadership speakers.

A flyer for some of our 2014 leadership speakers.

The weekend brought a full lineup of speakers assembled from all specialties and all corners of the US. Our hosts took us on a tour of their production facility to see the process behind the tools many of us experience in clinics. We asked 15 presenters from sports, military, management, academia, and other settings to teach us about leadership in their own career, and I ended up writing pages upon pages of notes on their wisdom and stories.

Five chiropractic residency directors from VA hospitals presented about the opportunities of the residency for newly minted doctors, and brought us leadership principles they have used in their work to create the new positions. Residency offers advanced clinical competency, and experience in the “pit crew approach” required for modern healthcare, they asserted. Of working alongside doctors of all professions, Dr. Anthony Lisi says, “You’ll be surprised how much they want to learn from you. All doctors tend to like to learn new things.”

Dr. Nicole Ingrando runs the North Orlando Spine Center in Florida, a booming clinic thanks to her sharp business acumen. What does that mean? To her, it means good communication skills, and consistent, positive clinical results. She emphasized knowing very specifically what you want to do and why you want that. That shapes how you make decisions, set priorities, and teach others about your work and goals. Expounding on the business skills, Dr. Sarah Potthoff taught a lot about different modern business models, like patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations, and what leadership skills may complement them.

ACA CEO James Potter presented a workshop on setting goals, and doing it in a way that you set yourself up to truly achieve them. The SMART goal template is familiar; goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. The highly quotable Todd Reiter, a doctor of both chiropractic and medicine, had yet another perspective on goals. Just set a goal, he said. No matter how ridiculous, your immediate instinct is to begin strategizing how you could accomplish it. In that way, it helps to get you started on a road to some ridiculous successes.

I could go on telling our speakers stories, but there is a lot of catch-up studying to do back on campus. Hopefully the coming year will allow many more students the opportunity to get together and experience this energy, motivation, and optimism themselves.

“Leading requires a spirit of gratitude,” Dr. Bill Morgan of the Walter Reed Military Medical Center told us. And following this incredible weekend with my peers in Roanoke, it is not a spirit that is hard to find.

Learn more about the 2014 SACA Leadership Conference at

Alright, so it took me a couple weeks to finish this post. There was conference wrap-up to be done. For news during lapses like this, follow Hands In Training on Facebook and @bhmccann on Twitter.

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