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Saving a Place at the Table
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“If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD, R-Ind. A former cardiothoracic surgeon now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Bucshon spoke to a roomful of young ophthalmologists during a luncheon at the Academy’s Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. His words might seem harsh, but they resonated with me during my eye-opening experience on Capitol Hill. Rep. Bucshon is correct — ophthalmologists (and all physicians) have a responsibility to protect our profession and our patients by becoming engaged in politics. If we do not, then we will most certainly be “on the menu,” so to speak.

YOs in action
This year, a record number of Advocacy Ambassadors (i.e., residents and fellows) convened in Washington D.C. on April 11 to meet with members of Congress and their staff and discuss issues affecting our profession and our patients. I am a resident at the Wills Eye Institute, Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and participated in Advocacy Day as part of the Pennsylvania contingent. Among the pertinent topics addressed were sustainable growth rate reform, the Truth in Healthcare Marketing Act (H.R. 1427), the Electronic Health Records Improvement Act (H.R. 1331) and funding for National Eye Institute and National Institutes of Health grants for ophthalmologic research. Do any of these sound familiar? For those of you that answered with a resounding “YES,” I congratulate you, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to debate any one of these pieces of potentially groundbreaking legislation prior to my visit to the Capitol.

“Ok guys, tell me about the issues”

Pennsylvania ophthalmologists meet with Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Penn.
Margaret Greven, MD (right), and Anya Gushchin, MD (left), meet with Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., during Congressional Advocacy Day.

So began our first meeting of Advocacy Day with Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Penn. Our group of six ambassadors, accompanied by an attending from Wills, Dr. David Pao, was pleased to have such a receptive host. Previous attendees had assured me that the more senior members of our group typically do all of the talking during these meetings. I was therefore surprised when Dr. Pao received a phone call and had to excuse himself at the beginning of the meeting, saying, “They’ve got this.” My fellow residents and I looked at each other nervously (I thought Dr. Pao was going to do the talking!), but nonetheless, we launched into our talking points, thankful for the briefing we had received the night before. What an opportunity for making our voices heard! I brought up H.R. 1331, legislation that was proposed to soften the impact of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act on solo practitioners and ophthalmologists nearing retirement. Rep. Fitzpatrick summarized my points and said, “This sounds like a bill I would support.” Wow! This politics stuff isn’t so bad!

Following a productive meeting with Rep. Fitzpatrick, we continued by meeting with legislative assistants of Rep. Robert Brady, D-Penn, and Sens. Robert Casey, Jr., D-Penn., and Patrick Toomey, R-Penn. Although we did not have the opportunity to meet directly with the congressmen and senators, I was pleasantly surprised by how knowledgeable, interested and receptive their staff members were.

Stay educated, stay involved
The day prior to Advocacy Day, I was in clinic at Wills, per usual, splitting time between patient care and all the stresses of residency and trying to find time to read my Basic and Clinical Science Course books. Ironically, despite so many career-centered concerns, the last thing on my mind was the legislation that has the potential to dramatically impact the real future of my career. Now, as I reflect on my experience in Washington, D.C., I feel compelled to stay educated on the issues and stay involved. Rep. Bucshon has made the ultimate commitment as a physician by becoming a representative of the highest level; however, there are certainly other ways to participate. Perhaps the most accessible is a monetary donation to state and national medical societies or groups such as the OPHTHPAC® fund, the Academy’s political action committee, and the Surgical Scope Fund. Donations of all sizes enable these groups to continue their work advocating for our interests.

On the other hand, never underestimate the power of a hand-written letter from a concerned constituent either. It is clearly incumbent upon our community of physicians to educate ourselves and our governing representatives on the pertinent issues, advocate for our patients and defend the way we practice medicine. We need to keep our “place at the table” and be part of the decision-making process.

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Margaret GrevenAbout the author: Margaret Greven, MD, is a first-year resident at Wills Eye Institute. Originally from Winston-Salem, N.C., she completed her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University and then medical school at Wake Forest University.

 
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