Editor’s note: Young ophthalmologists are the backbone of our advocacy efforts, particularly through the Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador Program. Others find their way to advocacy through personal relationships. Here is one YO’s story about her introduction to advocacy.
During my medical training, I found that aside from ophthalmology, health care advocacy was my passion. But I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to leave my mark. Fortunately, I had the right people by my side, along with some perfectly timed introductions and a lot of self-reflection to help me along the way.
Although fortune plays a role in all of our lives, here are some critical components that can set you up for success as an advocate.
Find a Good Support System
Fortunately during my time as a resident at the University of Iowa, I have built some amazing relationships. Being so active in the world of advocacy often means having to sometimes miss precious time in clinic or the OR. My team members have always stepped up to cover and I am very grateful for their support.
Collaborate With Different and Like-minded Thinkers
One of the best things about my medical training thus far has definitely been all the friendships and mentor relationships I have had along the way. Some of my favorite mentors have been those that may not be involved in the advocacy world, but rather used their talents to enrich the field of ophthalmology through bench research, artificial intelligence or even just great high-quality surgical care.
Although we may not execute our promotion for the field of ophthalmology in similar ways, having a department with powerful and innovative thinkers still inspired me to contribute to our community in my own unique way.
Engage With Your Community
As a resident, being an advocate can seem daunting and difficult as you are still trying to find your way through medical training. There is real work that can be done even at my current stage in training as a resident. As a board member of the House Staff Council at the University of Iowa, it is important to me to address some of the fundamental concerns that most directly affect my cohorts, such as the lack of retirement benefits for the house staff physicians at the University of Iowa. This remains an active legislative pursuit and although this may not come into fruition during my time at Iowa, it would be a great example of residents enacting a systemic change for the advancement of our trainees and training program.
Stay True to Yourself
The art of politics didn’t come naturally to me. Although I was part of conversations related to issues like scope of practice, these issues weren’t keeping me up at night. However, I realized that there was more than one way to enact positive changes for physicians and patients outside of the typical healthcare policy world. I found myself engaging in issues that felt most authentic to me, like those surrounding diversity equity and inclusion specifically in surgical subspecialties and medical education. In fact, some of these roles, such as assisting with the Academy’s Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring program or the National Medical Association’s Rabb Venable Research program have been my most fulfilling advocacy endeavors.
Be a Good Communicator
Being a good advocate starts with being a good listener. I learned that these sometimes intimidating conversations were most enlightening when I didn’t say anything at all. As a part of the local medical societies, I have participated in several policy and lobbying efforts such as medical liability reform and more recently statewide masks mandates which has afforded me the opportunity to engage with legislators in more intimate settings.
It is these opportunities that have highlighted the importance of good communication from all parties. I was surprised to find out that most legislators welcomed guidance and education about some of the health care decisions they were making, especially from those who were personally affected by these governing policies.
Pay It Forward
I am not sure if it’s actually true, but I probably wouldn’t be in the advocacy world if I hadn’t met a co-resident who first introduced me to the world of organized medicine. He definitely showed me a whole new side of healthcare and for me a new way to make a lasting impact, even as “just” a resident.
Now, it’s my turn to return the favor. Through these experiences I have had so many examples of how to be a great mentor/physician/advocate and my hope would be that at some point I can inspire others to continue these pursuits and play an active role in their own healthcare communities no matter how big or small.
||About the author: Alexis Warren, MD, is an ophthalmologist in the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and has been recently named as a vitreoretinal fellow at Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary. She also serves in many advocacy roles, including a board member of the House Staff Council at the University of Iowa, president of the Johnson County Iowa Medical Society and medical resident director of the Iowa Medical Society. She was a 2019 Advocacy Ambassador Program participant jointly sponsored by the Iowa Academy of Ophthalmology and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.