Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH


AACOM’s New Strategic Framework: A Roadmap for the Future



At the AACOM 2014 Annual Conference in April, the Association’s Board of Deans approved the new AACOM Strategic Framework for 2014-2018. The framework has been under development for the last two years—a rigorous process that took into account many environmental factors and industry trends. The outcome of this effort is a roadmap for the Association comprising carefully chosen strategic goals and objectives which we believe will help bring additional focus, discipline, and creative thinking to the process of achieving our mission. In this column, I would like to share with you some of the backstory behind this important document, and what I believe the implications are for us as leaders of our profession.

The new framework includes many changes that will affect all levels of our profession: The scope of our mission has been enlarged, our goals for accomplishing that mission are bigger, and our objectives for achieving those goals go beyond where we have gone before. We believe that achieving these goals will make us more aligned from the inside out, more operationally efficient, better able to measure progress against goals, and will help to differentiate us more completely from other associations in the medical education space.


Because organizations can easily devolve from lofty aspirational goals to a set of unrelated or contradicting tactics, we felt it was important to set strategies first, before breaking actions into tactical elements. We felt that this provided an overarching perspective and discipline to the development of specific actions, and would allow AACOM leadership and staff to have a deeper understanding of Association priorities, as well as how their work contributes to achieving the Association’s goals. In order to assure a common language and set of reference points, we have included at the end of this article a brief listing of terms and definitions used in the creation of the Strategic Framework.

In terms of the process, we gathered input from AACOM’s council chairs during the 2012 and 2013 Council Leadership Meetings in addition to incorporating follow-up input from those leaders and other council members into later drafts of the framework. AACOM also held internal department leadership retreats, all-staff meetings and briefings, and extensive discussions at four meetings of the Board of Deans, all focusing primarily on the Association’s 2014-2018 Strategic Framework. All of these meetings and discussions were assisted by a specialized strategic planning consultant.

Beginning with the End in Mind: Mission

If there is one idea that most directly drives everything we do as an association, it is our mission. In carefully considering the AACOM mission for the next four years, we sought to think big and yet think realistically at the same time. By adding the “continuum” to our mission statement, we now include GME and continuing education, which we feel are critical areas for AACOM involvement and leadership going forward. The new mission statement reads as follows:
“The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine provides leadership for the osteopathic medical education community by promoting excellence in medical education, research and service, and by fostering innovation and quality across the continuum of osteopathic medical education to improve the health of the American public.”

Strategic Goals and Objectives

Goal One: Position osteopathic medicine as an effective solution to the nation’s healthcare needs and assure the continuous flow of resources and recognition for osteopathic medical education by serving as the collective voice of the colleges of osteopathic medicine and associated osteopathic medical education programs.

During the framework planning discussions, the AACOM Board agreed that the Association’s advocacy function should be a top priority, noting it was one of the program initiatives that is most efficiently and effectively accomplished together. Economies of scale and scope come into play, making it difficult for the individual schools to apply enough resources to achieve the level of results that are desired. The Board also noted the importance of positioning AACOM and osteopathic medicine as a solution to the nation’s healthcare needs, beyond its role as a trade association. In addition to advocacy, this goal speaks to the need to devote more resources to a targeted public relations effort that goes beyond Capitol Hill and addresses overall awareness of osteopathic medicine by the general public. The list of objectives and associated timelines below were developed as the means by which to achieve this goal. 

Below the objective level, specific tactics are being developed that will most directly provide guidance to AACOM staff on which activities are to be undertaken and what budget and resource plans need to developed around these activities. In the specific objectives below, it is important to note that as our focus on advocacy expands, the Association will call upon other departments for more support of those initiatives (e.g., the AACOM Research Department).
  1. Advocate for federal legislative and regulatory policies and priorities that advance and elevate osteopathic medical education. 
  2. Increase awareness and understanding of osteopathic medical education and osteopathic medicine among policy makers, medical educators and the public. 
  3. Represent the interest and priorities of osteopathic medical education both within the osteopathic medical community and with key external groups.

Goal Two: Promote osteopathic medical education as a preferred pathway for future physicians in order to satisfy the need for sufficient numbers of qualified physicians to meet U.S. healthcare needs.

Goal Two above is another top focal area that the AACOM Board felt was important to develop in the interest of the osteopathic medical education community. This will require additional focus on recruitment, intentional fostering of diversity in the applicant pool, and targeted and consistent outreach to key influencers through social media and other appropriate channels. The following objectives provide a basic outline for the achievement of Goal Two:
  1. Promote greater awareness of osteopathic medicine and osteopathic medical education along the student pipeline.  
  2. Generate a well-developed, diverse pool of qualified applicants from which the colleges of osteopathic medicine will train and educate physicians. 
  3. Promote the establishment of an adequate number of high-quality graduate medical education opportunities for osteopathic medical school graduates.

Goal Three: Support member schools in preparing osteopathic physicians who are ready to meet the evolving healthcare needs of America by promoting excellence, innovation, and a culture of lifelong learning throughout medical education.

This goal speaks to an increased focus on supporting the colleges of osteopathic medicine (COMs) that constitute the primary AACOM stakeholder community. It is wide-ranging in scope, and seeks to develop a comprehensive and complete service delivery platform for member schools that includes everything from new research programs to faculty and resource development to convening of thought leaders and new continuing medical education opportunities. Ideas for specific tactics include possible development of modular and online curricula informed by the COMs; establishment of an “Innovator Think Tank;” and development of programs with an increased focus on public and population health. These objectives and tactics are being developed with the changing healthcare environment in mind, and on the desire of the COMs to identify new ways to prepare students for that new healthcare environment.
  1. Transform undergraduate medical education to produce graduates who are well prepared for clinical training in today’s high quality, value oriented, outcomes-based healthcare environment and evolving delivery systems.
  2. Provide leadership and support to osteopathic medical educators in their efforts to develop and deliver high-quality educational programs.                        
  3. Provide continuing medical education opportunities for faculty and administrators related to their roles as educators. 

Goal Four: Demonstrate the distinctive value and approach of osteopathic medical education by providing opportunities for collaborative research and scholarship.

As we consider the role of research in validating the benefits of osteopathic techniques and approaches, there are many possible projects and programs to consider, such as conducting institutional research and the appropriate benchmarking; establishing a comprehensive data center; developing research and scholarship focused on GME and osteopathic distinctiveness; and researching our educational model and proposed innovations in classroom and training methodologies. The objectives under this goal appear as follows:
  1. Undertake institutional research about osteopathic medical education and member institutions.
  2. Promote research and scholarship with a focus on OME and osteopathic distinctiveness.
  3. Increase the competitiveness of COMs for research funding.

Goal Five: Operate as an efficient and fiscally responsible organization working in support of its mission and its members.

With Goal Five, AACOM establishes strategic priorities that focus on growth in organizational strength and stability, as well as expanded membership functions that add value to and expand engagement of COM stakeholders. Additionally, this goal emphasizes expanded outreach to existing constituent groups as well as the identification of and outreach to new external constituent groups. Goal Five includes a new concentration on assessing opportunities for AACOM to expand its focus globally, to include not only leadership for osteopathic medical education at the global level, but also opportunities for international membership, and programs or services in support of member institutions’ global activities. To support Goal Five, we will continue to invest in our operations and communications infrastructure, in order to provide exemplary service.     
  1. Establish a well-organized operational and communication structure that supports AACOM’s current and future goals and objectives.
  2. Develop a sound, stable financial strategy that supports AACOM’s current and future goals and objectives.
  3. Provide services and shared solutions that provide value to members and the osteopathic medical education community.

Strategic Planning Definitions

MISSION: The ultimate purpose of the organization’s work. It is the primary lens through which major decisions are made.

GOALS: The desired end-results to be achieved. Goals are typically aspirational, not measurable. They usually last throughout the full term of the strategic plan without change.

STRATEGIES: The general approaches the organization will take to achieve its goals.

OBJECTIVES: Shorter-term, specific and measurable activities the organization will take to achieve the strategies.  Because objectives are measurable, they may be altered or updated if the targets are met or circumstances change. 

TACTICS: The specific actions the organization will take or tools the organization will use to achieve the objectives.  Tactics describe “how” the organization will advance its strategies and are typically developed as part of the annual staff work plans and budget.
Inside OME Header
April/May 2014
Vol. 8, No. 4/5