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  • Jennifer Lindsey, MD: Navigating Advocacy as a Government Employee

    Jennifer Lindsey, MDJennifer Lindsey, MD, is a leading advocate for protecting high quality surgical eye care for veterans in VA health facilities. In her role as immediate past president of the Association of Veterans Affairs Ophthalmologists, she spearheaded the organization’s engagement on the VA national standards of practice. She told us about her advocacy experience.

    Tell us where you practice and how it affects your advocacy. 

    I have a dual appointment as assistant chief of ophthalmology at the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System and as residency program director for ophthalmology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

    Over the years, I noticed many of my colleagues at the VA (myself included) were reluctant to participate in advocacy due to uncertainty –— not knowing what political activity is allowed and appropriate for federal government employees. This was the spark for my Academy Leadership Development Program (LDP) project, consolidating and clarifying the “Do’s and Don’ts” for advocacy by federal employees. We deal with so many critical issues affecting veterans’ health and U.S. health care in general, it is important that we are empowered to speak up for our patients and profession.

    As an educator, I love to get our residents involved in advocacy on the local and national levels. They are often surprised at the significant impact they can have and how much they enjoy the process! Learning about advocacy is more than just an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requirement, it’s a life skill.

    Tell us about your advocacy mentor.

    I have been extremely lucky to have many inspiring mentors in advocacy! Dr. Dave Vollman stands out. I was privileged to serve on the Association of Veterans Affairs Ophthalmologists Board when he was president. He and the association nominated me to participate in the Academy’s LDP Class of 2020.

    He was the mentor for my LDP project and was also instrumental in guiding me as his successor on the Academy’s Secretariat for State Affairs. He has been an energetic and dedicated advocate for ophthalmology, especially for VA issues.

    Tell us about a personal advocacy experience that is particularly memorable.

    During my term as president of the Association of Veterans Affairs Ophthalmologists, the VA launched its national standards of practice (also known as the federal supremacy project). Physician leaders in the VA and throughout the nation were alarmed and worried about how these standards, covering 50 VA health care occupations, would be developed and whether patient safety would be at the forefront. It has been absolutely wonderful and inspiring to see how the American Medical Association, the Academy and so many of my colleagues have rallied around VA ophthalmology and stepped up to protect veterans’ health in this critical time! Though the outcome is still uncertain, the joined voices of ophthalmology advocates, from within the VA to private practice and academia, have sent a clear message to VA leaders that we will not compromise on patient safety.

    What would you say to Academy members who want to get involved but don’t know where to begin?

    • Get involved in your state and subspecialty societies. Meet your local legislators for a cup of coffee or invite them to your practice so they can see first-hand the incredible work that ophthalmologists do.
    • Get informed about the VA national standards of practice and speak up to protect our nation’s heroes!
    • Go to the Academy’s Mid-Year Forum. The energy there is incredible. The Academy makes it easy to learn about the important issues and in turn to educate your legislators. Mentors abound! It is nearly impossible not to get inspired when you are surrounded by passionate, dedicated people who care so deeply about our patients and our profession.