At approximately 5:35 p.m., train 84 from Washington, D.C., once again passes the small town of Ashland, Virginia. I am currently on my way home from D.C. after attending this year’s Mid-Year Forum on behalf of the American Academy of Ophthalmology as one of the four EyeWiki Resident Contest winners. The event not only met but greatly exceeded my expectations, and is certainly something that I am honored and humbled to have been a part of.
As a young physician, I do not yet have much experience in the political arena, and at this year’s Mid-Year Forum, my eyes were opened to the delicate and quite intricate process that occurs daily in our nation’s capital. On any given day, there are a number of various lobbying groups on the Hill, each with their own unique agenda and goals that they would like to see accomplished by Congress.
Advocacy Ambassador Kevin Kerr, MD, shares
an issue brief with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
A senator or representative must carefully balance the needs of the individual, organization, state and population as a whole when deciding on whether or not to support any given bill. As lobbying meetings are typically short and the representative or staff member’s time is limited, I learned about the importance of making concise, yet effective, arguments as well as the accepted and expected etiquette of lobbying.
During Advocacy Day (and my first lobbying experience), I was able meet senators as well as House representatives and hear their discussion on health care and the future of medicine. We discussed a variety of important topics, including the ever-problematic sustainable growth rate and the need for a permanent fix.
Among other topics, we also discussed the Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act (H.R. 451), which aims to decrease confusion among patients by providing them with clear disclosure of their health care providers’ credentials, while decreasing false advertising within the health care field.
Despite a busy legislation schedule — with a looming national budget crisis and imminent government shutdown — our voices were still heard during our meetings and our concerns attentively and thoroughly addressed. During these sessions, it was inspiring to watch attendings whom I have worked with in clinic step into a much different role as political leaders and vocal advocates for our profession.
Aside from lobbying at the Capitol, we were also treated to a variety of informative lectures and keynote speakers regarding the politics of medicine and ophthalmology. I was also able to experience the beautiful weather of Washington, D.C., in April, and was delighted to meet and interact with residents, fellows and attendings from across the country.
One of the highlights of my trip was running into one of my former medical school classmates, with whom I was able to catch up during my short time in D.C. It was incredible to see such a young presence at the forum. I certainly hope that this is a trend that continues into the future.
As a member-in-training, I believe it is important for young ophthalmologists to get involved in shaping the political and legal landscape of our chosen field. As shown by recent events, this landscape is changing dynamically in this country, sometimes at a frighteningly quick pace.
The safety of our patients is in jeopardy, and it is important that residents as well as our senior ophthalmologists become actively involved in protecting our patients’ health and wellness. Furthermore, we must support our future profession or risk sitting idly by as the interests of others are served by those in Washington.
My experience at this year’s Mid-Year Forum is certainly something that I will not soon forget, and I encourage all residents — whether first-years or those about to join the work force — to strongly consider attending the Mid-Year Forum and Advocacy Day in the years to come.
There are a number of legislative acts currently undergoing debate in the House of Representatives that directly affect the lives of ophthalmology residents around the country. For instance, I was able to speak to congressional staff regarding the Access to Front Line Health Care Act (H.R. 531), which establishes a new student loan-repayment assistance program to health care providers, including ophthalmologists, who would commit to serve in underserved areas.
While such programs are currently limited to primary health care providers, the passage of this bill would be an incredible opportunity for residents such as myself, who have a large amount of medical school debt, to serve in rural areas of our country that are in great need of eye surgeons.
Being able to verbally express these concerns in person during Advocacy Day was much more powerful than a written letter or petition. It is important that the voices of young ophthalmologists are heard in Washington, as well as back at home with our state legislatures.
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About the author: Kevin M. Bowman, MD, is a second-year ophthalmology resident at Eastern Virginia Medical School. He currently lives in Norfolk, Va., and enjoys hiking and camping, as well as international volunteer work.