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YO Perspective: The Forces that Brought Me to Mid-Year Forum and Advocacy Day
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Editor’s note: Every year, the Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador program brings young ophthalmologists to the Mid-Year Forum through a partnership with state and subspecialty societies and training programs. Two of this year’s 123 participants, Azadeh Khatibi, MD, and George Scarlatis, MD, PhD, report on their experiences at Mid-Year Forum and Advocacy Day. Get even more stories on Mid-Year Forum group blog by ambassadors Leslie Garay, MD; Tyler Kirk, MD; and Christianna Stuber, MD.

Sitting in California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office on Congressional Advocacy Day, I was surrounded by up-and-coming residents and fellows, as well as venerable ophthalmologists whose names I’d read in articles but never met until now. And as I sat there, I couldn’t help but wonder about the force that compelled me to come to the Mid-Year Forum in Washington, D.C.

It had called me to rise in the pre-dawn darkness to leave my two cherubic little ones and a very supportive husband, asleep snug and serene in their beds, to travel across the country for four days. This same force prevailed against reasons for staying home and against the many unknowns of this first trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the Academy’s Annual Congressional Advocacy Day and Mid-Year Forum. The uncertainties of what would be my specific role, who I would meet, and what impact I could make all melted away as I invested myself in the electric excitement bred from these same uncertainties and the democratic process.

The Power of Unity
YO Azadeh Khatibi, MD, with other Advocacy AmbassadrsIn our meetings with legislators and their staff, I learned that part of that force was unity. As we spoke up and spoke out, our organized collective put an intelligent, just and immediate face to the muffled concerns of the physician masses.

At home, in our small domains, we struggle alone with issues of patient access, payment, less time with patients, increased paperwork and prohibitive regulations. Here, we were able to be one and come together to be further educated on government involvement in health care and the Academy’s online resources and share our stories, network and learn from one another.

The Power of Voice
By my second meeting with legislative staff, another element of the same force that carried me across the continent made me discard any nervousness I’d carried on that flight from California. It was my voice. My role as an advocate had become so clear and so easy to fall into, but, instead of falling, I jumped right into what my relatively privileged position enabled me to do: speak for my patients, my future staff, my fellow physicians, my family, myself and generations not yet born.

The Power of Hope
“Did anything get done, did you accomplish anything?” a fellow resident asked me upon my return. My initial response to his question identified the element that gives the greatest dimension to the force that drove me to Washington. I hope so, I thought.

Hope also led me here to do this work, and we cannot afford to call hope clichéd. But visions also surfaced in my mind’s eye that bestow mettle to our hope: ophthalmologists investing money and time into beliefs and intentions that serve the future and inspire me to do the same. I also thought back to shrewd words hastily noted on a crumpled paper, which I looked at over and over again during this dynamic week: “Patience and wisdom, we are here to make friends.”  

We spoke up for ourselves and built relationships with our legislators. We worked for ever-enlarging spheres of influence and consistent political relationships, all leading to excellent medicine practiced without interference. We imagine closing our eyes for the last time, knowing we’ve walked the path of making a difference equal to or greater than our worth.

Calling All Ophthalmology Departments, Department Heads, Program Directors and Attendings
The night before I left for Washington, I attended a dinner in honor of a guest professor visiting from another university. When I mentioned the Mid-Year Forum, he recommended that I meet up with one of his residents, who was also attending. As an aside, he noted that this resident would be missing his clinic. “But this is an investment in the future,” I said, to which he agreed. I applaud this gentleman for his progressive viewpoint.

YOs Azadeh Khatibi, MD, and Christianna Stuber, MD, at the OPHTHPAC reception during the 2010 Mid-Year Forum.I urge other attending physicians to consider that having residents and fellows attend Mid-Year Forum is an investment in the future. Like it or not, medicine is politicized. The more we educate up-and-coming ophthalmologists on these political issues and empower them to navigate the system and find their niche in how they can help, the more we are empowering our profession, our staff and our patients to succeed.

A paradigm shift is necessary to view residents and fellows attending the Mid-Year Forum and getting educated on the politics of ophthalmology as integral to the future of ophthalmology, as well as to the delivery of excellent eye care. I was surprised and happy to see that some ophthalmology programs had multiple residents and fellows attending Mid-Year Forum; I hope more programs encourage this practice.

Thank You for Your Support
The California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (CAEPS) delegation took the California young ambassadors under their wing and supported us throughout the Forum and Advocacy Day. I would like to acknowledge their time and dedication to the Academy and future ophthalmologists. Thank you to the CAEPS from the bottom of my heart for your generosity of time, expertise, advice and social and financial support. I will pay it forward.

Next year’s Mid-Year Forum is planned for April 6 to 9, 2011, at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Please plan on attending. If you cannot attend, do your part and donate to OPHTHPAC and/or the Surgical Scope Fund.

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About the author: Azadeh Khatibi, MD, MS, MPH, was one of 10 Advocacy Ambassadors sponsored to attend the Mid-Year Forum by the California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. She is in her second year of residency at University of California, Irvine.

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