My first exposure to advocacy was as a first-year ophthalmology resident at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The optometrists in Maryland were attempting to broaden their scope of practice and I was asked to testify to give a resident’s perspective.
I have remained engaged in advocacy ever since. I started out as an active board member for the Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, matriculated through the Academy’s Leadership Development Program, and then served on both the Academy’s State Governmental Affairs and OPHTHPAC committees. I currently serve as a state councilor to the Council. These experiences gave me a bird’s-eye-view perspective of the challenges we face for our patients and profession. I quickly learned two things. First, the world is run by people who show up! Second, if you are not at the table, you are on the menu!
Every spring I join hundreds of fellow ophthalmologists from around the country as we make our annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., to attend the Mid-Year Forum and Congressional Advocacy Day. During this time, we inform our respective U.S. congressmen and senators about the wonderful things we are doing as ophthalmologists, and lobby for needed resources and legislation. It is as a result of these annual meetings that I volunteered to be a Congressional Advocate. As a Congressional Advocate, I hope to be a resource to my member of Congress, with whom I have developed a relationship. I have been asked to give my perspective on a variety of issues — which may or may not be related to ophthalmology. The interesting thing is that once a relationship is established, it broadens the scope of issues discussed because of the trust we have for each other.
Having a mentor is the best way to get involved and to stay engaged. I am very fortunate to have great role models in Maryland that ‘showed me the ropes.’ These include the C.P. Wilkinson, MD (chairman of my residency program and former Academy president), Mary Louise Zimmerman-Collins, MD (my residency program director), and Allan Jensen, MD (former Academy president — and of every medical society in Maryland). I encourage those already involved in advocacy to mentor others — especially the residents and other YOs (Young Ophthalmologists) so that they develop good habits early.
I am somewhat surprised to learn from academics that they don’t feel like they need to be concerned with advocacy. They must understand that the research dollars that filter through the National Institutes of Health and the National Eye Institute to their research grants are a direct result of the advocacy efforts of the Academy and the ‘pilgrims’ that go to the Mid-Year Forum every year. It should also be noted that I have been advocating and lobbying Congress for 20 years, despite having abandoned insurance-based care in favor of refractive surgery fee-for-service care over much of that period.
I am a passionate advocate for our patients and profession and I encourage every ophthalmologist and physician to get involved. If not you, then who?
Sonny Goel, MD, is a cataract/refractive surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.