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  • Kenneth Cheng, MD, is an ophthalmologist in Wexford, Pa.… Because a long time ago I realized that I had to be. 

    As the years have gone by since I finished my residency, it has become painfully obvious that the way we practice medicine and care for our patients has been dramatically changed by the insurance companies and state and federal regulation. I’ve been a vocal participant in innumerable conversations where the chief complaint was how our professional lives are changing.

    It is well past the time when we all need to become more pragmatic and believe the often-quoted statement that sums up why we advocate: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you are probably on the menu.”

    We all had our reasons for choosing a career in medicine and ophthalmology. They likely included some combination of “It’s something that I will be good at,” “I’d like to help others,” and “I want to make a good living.” The insurance companies and regulations at the state and federal levels encroach upon each of these reasons.

    You may either passively let others change your professional life or you can become involved and help your profession gain a seat at the table. To quote Stephen Hawking, “People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” Pragmatism means accepting what the real situation is. Rather than merely complaining that things should be different, you make the best of it. You do something to affect the changes we want.

    We are all competitive individuals who worked long and hard to become ophthalmologists. We strive to continue to learn and improve our skills. Why would we now choose to throw in the towel? Why would we not become more involved in assuring our voice is heard?

    Everyone can choose the level of involvement that they are ready for and comfortable with. Relationships and contributions matter. A small percentage of the population will ever contact or visit their legislators. Those who do will gain a hefty amount of their legislator’s attention. When special interest groups like the Academy meet with legislators, we have an even louder voice because we bring with us the voices of all of our members. Together we are stronger.

    The Academy works very hard for you but your Academy membership alone cannot support everything needed to protect our profession. A voice at the federal level requires OPHTHPAC donations. A voice at the state level and with the payors requires membership in your state ophthalmology society. Donations to your state PAC helps defend your backyard. And as the organized voice of optometry screams across the country, the Surgical Scope Fund allows us to defend patient safety and our profession’s rights in state after state, year after year.

    Make a choice to get more involved by contacting your legislators. Develop good relationships with them. It’s easy for them to side with those whom they remember and even easier to for them to ignore those from whom they have never heard. Inquire about becoming more involved in your state society — you will be welcomed with open arms.

    I implore you to get involved on some level and not give up your voice. Become an advocate. It’s something you have to do.

    Kenneth Cheng, MD, is an ophthalmologist in Wexford, Pa., and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Allegheny General Hospital and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.