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  • Advocacy Ambassadors Take It to The Hill

    Medical school and residency training correctly place emphasis on patient care, but this often limits consideration of the larger picture. It is easy to have the mindset that you will positively impact individual patients by providing direct care to the best of one’s ability. But how do you address issues that impact patients as a group: like having access to multiple anti-VEGF medications to effectively treat macular edema associated with AMD or diabetes?

    I knew that it was important for us to advocate for our patients in theory, but I had not seen any concrete results from my rare efforts at advocacy and thus was not convinced that any efforts meant much. Then I went to the Academy’s 2015 Mid-Year Forum and returned again this year.

    One trip to Washington, D.C. will open your eyes. A second trip with Mid-Year Forum will convert you for life.

    With the scent of cherry blossoms lingering in the air, 12 advocacy ambassadors representing the six residency programs in Illinois joined the sidewalk bustle to take our message to D.C. last week. Fortunately, we all received the memo about wearing comfortable shoes, which made our trek through the streets much faster and more comfortable.

    Before attending my first Mid-Year Forum last year, it seemed to be an excellent way to meet colleagues, learn more about issues facing our profession and figure out how state and national societies interact. Little did I know that I would be thrown into the deep end of advocating at a national level. It felt vaguely like trial by fire … very Game of Thrones-esque when Khaleesi emerges unscathed from the funeral pyre with three baby dragons.

    Needless to say I loved it — so much that I came back this year and hope to attend for many more. You enter as an individual resident, never having met federal representatives in person, and you leave Washington with new friends, valuable contacts and a sense of impact.

    During our time on Capitol Hill, we were fortunate to meet with many different representatives and staff members. Discussing the Academy’s agenda in person allowed us to give concrete examples of how legislation directly impacts our patients. Watching the play of emotions on a representative’s face when told about a patient who developed a corneal ulcer and central scar requiring a transplant because he was able to order contact lenses online for years without seeing an eye care provider really brought home why it is important to protect consumers with appropriate legislation.

    Our political system is a living creature that grows and changes, and seeing how legislation impacts our patients and our businesses in only a year is powerful. I am continually impressed by the staff members, specifically Sofya Leonova, the amazingly well-versed legislative assistant for Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., whom I originally met last year.

    When a small group met with her again this year, we brought up the Medicare Part B demo, which could limit ophthalmologists’ ability to use some anti-VEGF medications. As we described them, she asked if we were referring to Avastin. Later she asked if any consumer interest groups, like the Consumer’s Union, support the Truth in Healthcare Marketing Act (H.R. 1741).

    Having a personal connection with someone so involved in the system and possessed of such impressive knowledge gives me great hope for the system and our opportunity to be heard.

    Two years ago, I had a superficial appreciation for advocacy, but after two Mid-Year Forums, that’s grown exponentially. I now know that not only do our voices matter, but we are heard.

    As physicians and ophthalmologists, we all share the main goal of providing safe, high-quality health care to all of our patients. Thanks to the Mid-Year Forum, I now know that providing such health care takes both the individual patient care we provide in clinic … and advocacy for our patients and profession in Washington, D.C.

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    Laura L. Snyder, MDAbout the author: Laura L. Snyder, MD, is a PGY4 at the University of Chicago. The Illinois Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons sponsored her Mid-Year Forum 2016 attendance through the Advocacy Ambassador Program.