For the first time in history, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) will be led by a physician from Indiana. Dr. James Stevens, a neurologist specializing in sleep disorders at the Fort Wayne Neurological Center, will be inducted as president at the AAN’s national meeting in May. He will lead an organization of more than 36,000 members, representing roughly 92 percent of the neurologists in the United States. As its 36th president, Stevens is only the eighth to come from private practice.
“I’m very humbled for the honor of being able to do this,” says Stevens. “It’s a big honor and a big responsibility, but I’m excited about the opportunity.”
A native of Columbus, Indiana, Stevens has spent his entire career in Fort Wayne. After graduating at the top of his class from the Indiana University School of Medicine, Stevens earned the Alexander Ross Award for outstanding neurological research multiple times during his neurology resident training. He received job offers from all over the country, but ultimately two things drew him to Fort Wayne: the people were genuine and the practice he joined (Fort Wayne Neurological Center) seemed to be very forward-thinking about medicine and neurology.
“Once I came here, I was not disappointed,” says Stevens. “This is a very well-trained, forward-thinking practice, and the community is the same. The values of the people here resonated with me.”
When Stevens first joined the AAN just three years into his career, he didn’t think much beyond the free lunch that was offered in return for his participation in a focus group. His thoughtful answers earned him an invitation to dinner, which in turn led to an offer to sit on a committee responsible for reviewing practice guidelines. Fifteen years later, Stevens became president of the AAN’s Practice Committee. Soft-spoken and affable, Stevens had found his voice.
“I have no problem advocating for things I think are correct,” says Stevens.
Stevens decided early on that the time he dedicated to the AAN – all outside his practice and family responsibilities – would serve as the philanthropic component of his life. He was impressed by the organization’s ability to get things accomplished not only on behalf of its members, but also the profession as a whole.
“I thought it would be an incredibly worthwhile endeavor, and I have not been disappointed,” says Stevens. “And the saying is true; when you give, you get tenfold in return.”
Within the AAN’s mission of education, research, and advocacy, Stevens has already identified the agenda he intends to promote during his two-year tenure as AAN president. He wants to address physician burnout, explore and expand the use of technology in teleneurology, and decrease the regulatory burden so that doctors and advanced practice providers can spend less of their time on administration and more time helping patients. It’s a tall order, but Stevens is confident that together with the people and resources of the AAN, he can make a difference.
“I’ve been very proud of our organization,” says Stevens. “It has been a very disciplined, data-driven, organized vehicle to improve patient care and the satisfaction of our members.”
Stevens also wants to use his presidency to bring conferences to the area to elevate the city’s visibility. He is already looking forward to bringing an educational conference for advanced practice providers of neurology to Fort Wayne in the summer or fall of 2020.
Stevens’s leadership style reflects his humble attitude. It is critically important, he says, for a leader to be true to himself, to understand his strengths and weaknesses, to be honest, and to use people’s talent appropriately. Most of all, individual ambition should give way to the greater good.
“It’s never been an ego-driven thing for me. It has always been about servant leadership,” says Stevens. “I’ve always been of the mindset that I’ve never really cared who got the credit, as long as what needs to get accomplished gets done.”
Nonetheless, the work Stevens does with the American Academy of Neurology demands much of his time. In addition to seeing patients at Fort Wayne Neurological Center, he serves as professor of neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine and leads an active family life with his wife and adult children. With such a full schedule, Stevens could easily fall victim to the burnout he wants to address. Interestingly, his solution has actually been to become busier.
“One of the cures for me has been involvement outside the practice,” says Stevens. “It’s a wonderful tonic, getting involved and witnessing that your efforts can make a difference. Just the experience of interacting with incredibly bright colleagues is a shot of energy.”
Even with his increased responsibilities to the AAN, Stevens will still care for his patients at the Fort Wayne Neurological Center.
“I value the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life,” he says. “Whether it is the one-on-one opportunity with my patients or the thousands of lives impacted by the American Academy of Neurology. I feel very fortunate to have found something that I am as passionate about today as when I started my career more than thirty years ago.”
As Stevens prepares to take the reins at the AAN, his advice to others is simple: set your sights high and get involved. Although the journey may be demanding and require a significant amount of time, the payback in personal satisfaction is worth the effort.
“If you don’t dream it, it won’t happen,” he says. “I encourage people to get involved in whatever it is that is meaningful to them. Giving, especially when you have an attitude of service, repays the individual multiple times over.”
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Products & Services: Fort Wayne Neurological Center provides patients suffering from neurological and spinal disorders with the advanced, comprehensive and accessible care. The healthcare team is committed to offering unequaled service through the entire continuum of a patient’s care, including: evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, follow-up, prevention, education, research, referral and administration. Specialties include multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s/dementia, movement disorders, sleep disorders, stroke and neurodiagnostics.