What It’s Like To Advocate For Healthcare

Make your voice heard.

With the ongoing healthcare debate, we are told again and again how valuable our voices are as docs and almost docs. But how do we make our voices heard?

One way is to call your representatives. Another is to visit them.

A number of medical organizations coordinate annual advocacy days on Capitol Hill for their members to attend. The benefit of meeting in person with Congressional representatives and their staff is that it can help us put a face on the healthcare workforce and establish ourselves as experts in the care of patients. It can create lasting relationships with these representatives that gives us the power to speak for our patients.

This year was my third time attending one of these advocacy days held by the American College of Physicians. Yet, I can still remember the uncertainty I felt as I arrived at Washington, DC as a first-year student. Who am I to speak on what ails our healthcare system? What if I don’t know the exact policies?

Luckily, the first day was designed to get me up to speed. I received outlines for each issue we were advocating for, including current related bills we should ask our representatives to support. I listened to policy experts speak about the issues and how to best speak about them. I watched example discussions with representatives so that I had some idea of how things would go.

I also joined a team. We were organized by region so that we would meet together with our local representatives. My team was comprised of medical students, residents, and attendings from downstate Illinois, including some with previous experience advocating in DC. The meetings the next day were already scheduled, and we planned who was speaking and what topics would be covered at each meeting. As a medical student, I would speak on an issue most relevant to me: funding for graduate medical education.

The next day we headed to Capitol Hill. I found myself in a Senator’s office, speaking with his healthcare staff member. I told him my concerns for matching and emphasized the growing need for more physicians. Then, with a quick look at my notes, I asked that the Senator supports S.577, the Resident Physician Shortage Act, to increase the number of residency positions.

As we left the meeting, my group of advocates took a picture to share of our experience, and I later followed up with an email. After a few more similar meetings, my involvement in our advocacy day was formally ended. However, it does not have to be and will not be the end of my advocacy.

Healthcare is impacted by policy decisions everywhere from the local to the national level. The most evident policy debate of late has been the potential repeal of the ACA that was recently blocked. However, many other issues exist that require physicians to speak up. These include medical liability reform, finding solutions for the opioid crisis, and reducing gun violence.

If you ever get a chance to speak with your representatives on healthcare, I highly recommend it!

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Hanna Erickson, "Almost" MD/PhD

Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.