Monday, March 30, 2015

Engagement through Advocacy

by: Amy Liepert, MD

“Oh my! You look too young to be a surgeon!”  This was not exclaimed to me (this time) by a patient, although I have often heard that.  As I am nearly 2 years out of my fellowship training and not having taken significant time off, my age is not much of a secret.  However, instead of my response this time being an assurance that indeed I am old enough, and I am older than I look, as it might have been to a patient or family member, this time I responded differently.  “With all due respect Lieutenant Governor, YOU do not appear old enough to be Lieutenant Governor!”

With engagement in advocacy you never know what chance meeting, connection or opportunity might arise to put you in the position to influence and impact the care of your patients at a legislative level.  While participating as part of my state’s physician advocacy day, known as Doctor Day, I had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the young and female Lieutenant Governor of my state.  Just as medicine and surgery has been undergoing a transformation with the incorporation of more female surgeons, women are making up a greater proportion in politics. 

As women have impacted and influenced the practice of surgery for the better, we also carry the responsibility to ensure equitable and quality care to our patients.  This often requires engagement in the political arena.  Engagement in these activities is not about partisan politics; it is about developing relationships with those who navigate within the political sphere.  Those relationships allow us to share the important work that we do for our patients and to ensure that the amazing care that we have been trained to provide is protected.

As I have participated in advocacy days and in-district meetings on both a national and state level, I have found myself talking less and less about specific policy agenda items and more about patients, the care I provide, and the challenges I have faced in delivering care.  As legislators learn more about these real-life example circumstances they seek out solutions.  More often than not, those inquiries lead back to the issue briefing that were meant to be the topic of discussion.

Advocacy and engagement is less of an additional burden or task to the surgeon, but instead it is an extension of the important work that each of us contributes to our patients each and every day.  Each phone call, each email, each letter, and each visit to legislators are important and vital components for the care of your patients.  Relationships developed with legislators who can rely on you, as an expert surgeon reference, is a priceless gift that a surgeon can give to her patients. 

I encourage each of you to challenge yourself to engage in the on-going care of your patients by engaging with your (and you patients’) representatives.  Share stories, successes and challenges.  You will find legislative members of government who look similar to you and many who do not.  But sharing your viewpoints, experience and expertise is a necessary extension of your role as a surgeon.  It is now easier than ever to participate.  Check out Surgeonsvoice.org, the advocacy dedicated webpage created by the American College of Surgeons.  Here you will find all kinds of information including current issues.  Log in with your ACS member ID number and last name.

Engaging in advocacy is easy once you start.  In order to make that transition look to join a Doctor Focused Advocacy Day in your state or attend the ACS Leadership and Advocacy Summit in April.  These types of events are supportive, educational and fun. Finding common ground with legislators is the method to ensure a strong on-going foundation to the future quality of care for all of our patients. 

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