Is Face-to-Face Contact Still Relevant for Networking REIs? An Interview with Dr. Jason Franasiak

In this episode, Griffin talks to Dr. Jason Franasiak. Dr. Franasiak works with RMA of New Jersey, and he has joined Griffin to discuss the importance of professional networking. Even during his fellowship, Dr. Franasiak became an active member of professional organizations, and today he sits on committees for a variety of organizations, including ASRM and PCRS. Follow Dr. Franasiak on Twitter at @jasonfranasiakmd.

Griffin Jones: Today with me on Inside Reproductive Health is Dr. Jason Franasiak from RMA of New Jersey. Dr. Franasiak comes from a background of women’s healthcare in his family. His father was an OB/GYN, his mother was a labor and delivery nurse. Dr. Franasiak graduated from the College of William and Mary, he went on to medical school at University of Virginia. He did his residency at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and he completed his REI fellowship at RMA of New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson program at Rutgers. Dr. Franasiak is involved in a number of extracurricular groups and planning activities in our field. That’s why he’s on the show. There’s a lot that I don’t even see on his bio here… like SREI and ASRM tech committee, so we’re gonna jump into those as we talk about networking for reproductive endocrinologists. Dr. Franasiak, welcome to the program!

Jason Franasiak: Thank you, Griffin. Good to be with you.

GJ: Can we address that your name is obviously pronounced FranAYsiak because of the fact that your father is from western New York. Because anywhere else, you would be Dr. Jason FraNAHsiak, I’m convinced.

JF: Yes!

GJ: I can hear the North Tonawanda/Western New York/Buffalo New York accent in the way that Franasiak is pronounced.

JF: Yes, that’s exactly right. That was the doing of my father’s family, and technically the Polish pronunciation should be Franahsiak.

GJ: Which seems correct and the Buffalo Polish legacy remains strong. I’m glad it’s made itself to Virginia and later New Jersey. You’ve only been in the field for really a few years, when we talk about the completion of fellowship. I feel like I’ve seen you everywhere. That’s why I wanted to have you on for this topic. You and I originally became acquainted from Twitter. And that was from a roundup I’ve done, and you were also on the tech committee. I wanted to make sure I knew everyone from ASRM’s tech committee. Then I saw you at— you invited me to speak at the SREI members retreat a few years ago. Then I see you’re on the PCRS planning committee. Before we go into any of these individually, for being someone relatively new to the field, why was it so important to you to be seemingly everywhere.

JF: I don’t know that I set out originally to be everywhere, but I certainly, from the beginning of fellowship, was really very attuned to trying to be involved with the entities and bodies that shape the way that the field was moving. So to be a part of organizations that were shaping the policies and protocols that were in place for REIs was an important thing in my mind.

GJ: Do you think of it as laying a framework, because you’re young, I’m young, and I always think of my networking as building a framework. Personally, I’m in my early 30s, I will probably be one of these people that works forever, and I think, “Gosh, if I can build really strong relationships now, and I’m still hustling in my 60s, 70s, however long, God willing, I might have relationships with people for decades.” Do you think of it in those terms?

JF: I do in some regards. I think this is a field I’ll be in for many years to come, for far beyond the “retirement age” because it’s just something I love to do. It’s something that brings me fulfillment and joy. Being involved in all of these things helps build that for me.

GJ: How much of it is “no good deed goes unpunished?” Meaning you’re working on one group or one event, and then someone asks, “Hey, you did a pretty good job! Will you help us with this?” How much of it is that?

JF: Well, I mean, I think that to a great degree your networking abilities and connections always lead to other networking abilities and connections. You’re always asked to do more when you’ve done a reasonable job at things. To a great degree, there is a lot of that. There are folks who have been identified as people who can get things done and who are interested in getting things done. I think that’s one of the big things. Organizations really want people who have an interest in getting things done and want to do those things. So you kind of do get a little bit of self selection by having done some of those things for some organizations who either tap you again to do things or other organizations see what you’ve done, and tap you to do things for them.

GJ: I like that you said reasonable job, too. Because sometimes that is the standard. It’s just you need someone to help out and it might not necessarily be this deeply outstanding involved event or effort. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it is that we just need someone reliable to help us pass this from one year to the next or one team to the next.

JF: Absolutely.

GJ: What started for you. Where, of all the groups, what was the first one?

JF: You know, I think probably SREI was really one of the first ones. I was the associate member chair of that organization while I was in fellowship. That organization, I think, really started me down the path of networking and engagement with organizations in the fertility field.

GJ: And then how did that parlay into the next– what came after? I want to understand the sequence of each group and event and how one came with the other. Where they involved, or did you come to them separately?

JF: Sure. I think some of them came separately and then some of them came as you had mentioned, with folks having recognized that I did a reasonable job with one organization and asked me to be involved with another. I have been involved with the American Society of Reproductive Medicine as an interactive associate member, and that’s through fertility and sterility. It’s an organization that’s led by Mike Hill as the chief interactive associate. It’s an organization that helps promote discussion on the fertility and sterility dialogue, the forum, for FMS. So we promote the conversations, articles, and things of that nature. And we’re also involved in the fertile battles each month that are involved in fertility and sterility. So I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now and I really enjoy that. It’s a fantastic academic exercise and a really nice way to network with other folks. One of the other organizations I have been involved with is the CRRST Scholars program-- that’s the Clinical Research and Reproductive Science Training program. It’s a program which is for folks who are involved or want to be involved in clinical and translational research early on in their careers. The organization serves to put people through a curriculum through Duke and then subsequently gets them hooked in with doing research projects through the network and it’s a great springboard for early folks in the field.

GJ: When you’re passing through these groups or getting deeply involved in them, how do you see the distribution of folks from universities and health systems, folks from large practice groups or fertility networks, and folks from small independently owned practices?

JF: With organizations such as SREI or CRRST, there’s a great distribution. There are folks from large private practices, from smaller, more independent private practices, and then folks from university health systems and medical systems. So it’s a great meeting of the minds with all of these folks from different backgrounds coming together to contribute different things to the conversation.

GJ: There have been a few times, and I’m thinking of two different small groups in particular, where different people have said to me, “Well, we just feel like it’s for the bigger practice groups. I don’t wanna send my people or I don’t wanna go myself to these particular meetings or organizations because I feel they’re just for the larger groups.” In my opinion, to me that seems all the more important for them to go if that really is the case. Also, because I think independently owned practices because they don’t have large support networks or entirely built systems within their operations, that they can really benefit from the knowledge of others, the networking of others, just to even have some people on the phone twice over the course of the year to get on the phone with for a half hour or hour to talk about the challenges they’re going through. To me, that networking seems more important. Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree, what would you say to those folks?

JF: Yeah, I think absolutely that the networking in general is for organizations of all sizes, so we all become interdependent, we all need one another, and we all have different strengths and things we bring to the table. Just because you’re not part of a large network or university system doesn’t mean that you don’t have valuable input or things to bring to the table— you have a different set of skills or things to bring to the table. I absolutely agree that having folks like that come to the meetings and be involved in the discussions is really important.

GJ: You mentioned the pros, you learn so much more, you meet more people, you have the ability to access them as resources. What are the cons of being so deeply involved?

JF: Well, personally, I don’t see a lot of cons. Perhaps that’s indeed why I ended up being involved in various things. Certainly you can look at the downsides in terms of time away from the practice or time away from patients or time away from family. But the fact of the matter is that these things are a balance. You need to find that balance and ensure that it’s right for you. If it turns out the downsides of being involved with these things is you’re not spending enough time with family members or that you’re unable to keep up with your practice, it’s probably time to pull back a little bit from these extracurricular activities and ensure that you have that balance when it comes to the extracurricular activities and your curricular activities, as it were.

GJ: When I’m thinking of other creative firms or other business development consultancies, and I think of the principal, inevitably there’s a point where someone’s really successful, they’ve been doing it for a long time, or worse, they haven’t, where they think, “There’s not more for me to gain before I….It’s not the best use of my time to partake in any of these groups or go to the meetings or…” Even if they see the value at some intellectual level, they just don’t make the time for it. I think it’s a mistake at any level of business, given how quickly things are changing. It simply, if nothing else, even if things are going great, it’s an investment for the next 4 years, 10 years, to strengthen the relationships and be a little bit closer to how things are developing. Does that same rule apply to every fertility doctor?

JF: I would say that it does. You know, we can’t practice reproductive medicine in a silo. And just like you can’t do anything in this world in a silo. We need that connection with other individuals, we need that networking, we need to be able to share ideas with folks, because that’s how we’re able to grow. Nobody has it all figured out, from the biggest to the smallest of clinics. Nobody has it all figured out, and we can all learn from one another. What I think it is-- networking for more official purposes, like being a part of SREI, or it’s informal networking-- sharing ideas or ways of doing things-- the networking piece is crucial for folks in all clinic sizes.

GJ: None of us do have it figured out, and I love an analogy that I heard recently. It was talking about deep expertise, and one of the reasons why many people either stay with one- or they don’t go any deeper or they’re reluctant to pick one area in which to become a deep expert, is because they view it as a closet. They’re either- they already think they’ve seen everything or they think there’s just- they don’t want to go there because they can’t see what’s beyond it. In reality, in becoming a deep expert in just about anything, it’s the closet to NARNIA. You push away the clothes and you see that there’s this entire world that you can really go infinitely deeper, especially given that things are always being taken away, and things are changing. For me, in meetings, that can mean the impact of digital media. I don’t know if in, 15, 20, years we’re not going to go to San Antonio or Denver for ASRM-- we’re gonna sit in our houses with goggles on and all be in the same virtual place. I don’t know if that’s in 15 years or 60 years. How do you see digital media now- what it’s doing in 2018, 2019, 2020- impacting the utility of meetings. Is it still as important to go to all of them, can you replace them with digital media now? How does it augment, hurt, interact with in-person networking?

JF: Yeah… you know, I think that for a lot of things at meetings, you may be able to supplant the physical attendance at meetings with the digital aspect of meetings. Lectures can be recorded or videotaped and things of that nature, so you may be able to get a lot of that information while sitting at home on your couch. But one of the things you certainly can’t get now- maybe someday you’ll be able to-- but you can’t get now is the conversations that occur between the lectures. The time you get to spend with individuals networking, asking questions, things of that nature, I really feel like you need to be at the meetings in order to have those interactions with folks that you can’t get digitally at this point. \

GJ: If you talk to most docs, especially when we’re referring to larger conferences, that’s exactly what they say. “I’ve seen this lecture before, I’ve read about this online, or I could take another module to come into this information, but I go to see people, to have the discussions, talk about this.” Given that this is the case, why don’t we just do that? Why don’t we just have meetings where that’s the exclusive purpose. My hypothesis is that doctors wouldn’t come, because there needs to be a little bit more context, like the CMEs and continued learning. But the value of the networking is why most people are still going to meetings, in my opinion.

JF: I think that the value of networking cannot be understated when it comes to meetings. I think that probably getting rid of all of the lectures and CMEs would probably be a mistake for a couple of reasons. I think in addition to the networking, people do go to learn about new things and to be engaged in the lectures. ANd I think that, in some regard, that structure of having meetings with lectures allows you to go and sit and be involved with things you may put off or not do when you’re at your home or at your own leisure doing things. I think in some regard having the lectures and formal structure of the meeting is important. But I agree, the networking is one of the key things at meetings.

GJ: Do you network with any groups, conferences, interests outside of REI or medicine?

JF: To a small degree, I do. But largely it’s within the field. I’m a board member of an organization called Creating Family which works with folks who have infertility and donor and adoption needs, but that’s also kind of in the field. I’m also involved with my medical school reunion committee. I’m the chair of the medical school reunion committee. I’m still involved with that to a degree, but that’s still a part of medicine. I don’t really have any networking outside of medicine, and that may be a shortcoming on my part for not being very well rounded.

GJ: I have come to really believe that there’s a tremendous value in going really deep in one discipline and then having a perpendicular layer of more superficial interests, just to have a bit more of context of things that are going on. What you’re doing is essentially what business people or professionals of any kind or practitioners of any kind would have done seventy years ago, just you’re not doing it in one geographic location and you’re doing it in a really specialized subspecialty. But networking today has the same value that the people from your grandfather’s neighborhood in Buffalo would have had seventy years ago, of, “I own this business but I’m involved in the boy scout group or the lions, because being involved in the community this way allows me to access the benefits of this network as well.” As we wrap up this episode about networking, what haven’t I asked you about networking with fertility specialists that you’d want to conclude with?

JF: I think that you pretty much covered everything that I would think would be important when it comes to networking. In conclusion, having the ability to network and be involved in networking is a, first and foremost, a personal choice. In some regards it is a professional choice and it may very well, in my opinion, be a professional necessity. But you can only have it be a necessity to a certain degree in your life. You have to have a passion for being involved with the organizations that are making change in the area where you’re working. You need to be able to enjoy that and have that be a fulfilling part of who you are as a person to get the most out of it.

GJ: And just like how you and I met, the listeners can start networking with you on Twitter. We’ll link it in the show notes, but what’s your Twitter handle?

JF: @jasonfranasiakmd

GJ: Jason Franasiak, MD- give him a follow, start the network. Jason Franasiak, thanks for joining me on Inside Reproductive Health!

JF: Thank you Griffin, I appreciate it so much.