Between 21st August and 31st October 2015, the Society for Social Medicine (SSM) ran an internet-based survey to capture opinions of both members and non-members regarding the current functioning of the society and its potential role in social medicine moving forward. The survey was advertised using several email contacts (see Appendix), as well as the SSM email bulletin, website and social media channels, and all replies were anonymous.
The web-based survey of members attracted about 10% of SSM members (58 out of 572) and 140 non-members from a variety of disciplines. Twelve of those non-members had previously been members. In general the respondents considered that they applied more than one specialty in their work and that social medicine was relevant to their specialties. Public health and epidemiology were the most commonly cited specialties across both members and non-members, with health services research appearing as a greater focus in non-members. The respondents’ answers to both surveys can be grouped under three main categories: Communication, Events and Membership.
SSM communicates via monthly emails, a quarterly newsletter, the SSM website and social media (namely Twitter and Facebook). It was apparent that respondents felt there was a need for more member involvement in the Society (e.g. being able to publicise research publications, events, courses etc.) and more analysis/commentary by SSM with regards to emerging public health topics/issues in the field and public domain (e.g. via blogs or in the newsletter). The monthly emails, the newsletters and the Twitter account were viewed positively by more than three quarters of respondents in terms of interesting content. While several respondents felt Facebook was less well used (and possibly not needed), there was a call for an increased use of Twitter to communicate regularly (e.g. about the blogs, new research etc.) instead of the website, as this was mainly seen as an information resource. It was noted that the committee will still need to cater for those without social media accounts, however.
Just over half of non-members were aware of the ASMs, although two-thirds had never attended. A quarter had no specific reason for not attending, but some reasons included prioritising other conferences (21%), the ASM being too expensive (14%) or being too far away (11%). Amongst members, two thirds had attended in the last 5 years, with half of these regularly attending. The conference being too far away was the most common reason given for not attending (35%). As membership increases, including amongst non-UK residents, the Society’s work outside of the ASMs may become increasingly important (as described above in terms of increased member involvement and communication). More than 90% of members and non-members who had attended recent ASMs rated them as of high or very high quality. In order to keep the ASMs relevant though, people are looking for more opportunity for: debate; emerging topics and perhaps specific themes (of sessions or conference); collaboration and networking; shorter talks that focus on findings/conclusions (e.g. pitch presentations); greater international focus; and joint events (with the Faculty of Public Health, British Sociological Association MedSoc etc.). The one-day events hosted by SSM were also rated as high or very high quality by 72% and 83% of members and non-members, respectively. Although 86% of members were aware that the SSM ran one-day meetings and workshops, only 21% of non-members were aware they took place.
Overall, there was a low level of awareness of the benefits of (11%), and joining process for (23%), SSM membership amongst non-members. All of the benefits provided by SSM membership were rated as moderately, very or extremely important by at least 80% of members and non-members, except for reduced membership fees for other societies or reduced subscriptions rates for journals/books. Suggestions included: dropping reduced subscriptions to journals/books (if costly); offering more mentoring; offering more advocacy/commentary of important issues (as highlighted above in communication); more outreach to include more non-academics; and more opportunities for networking and collaboration that can actually lead to grants, publications and/or sharing knowledge and skills.
The quality of the SSM ASMs and outputs are highly regarded amongst both members and non-members, but there remains scope for:
- Better promotion of the SSM
- Better interaction with members
- More commentary and advocacy on important issues
- More debate on ‘hot topics’ at the ASM
If you would like to read the full report, you can view it here.