The Academy’s Congressional Advocacy Day and Mid-Year Forum are two of my favorite meetings of the year. They are such unique events, prompting hundreds of ophthalmologists to meet in Washington, D.C., to advocate for our profession and, most importantly, for our patients.
My First Mid-Year Forum
I have very fond memories of my first experience at this meeting. As a resident at Howard University Hospital in the D.C. area, I was fortunate to be able to attend during my first year of ophthalmology training as part of the Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador Program (aao.org/mid-year-forum/advocacy-ambassador-program).
The opening session. As I sat in the Mid-Year Forum opening session surrounded by my fellow ophthalmologists, listening closely to the leaders of our field stress the importance of being vocal advocates, I was inspired. As a resident, it’s easy to become so engulfed by clinical responsibilities and education that one may lose sight of what is most important, which is providing the best care possible for our patients.
I realized that although the field of ophthalmology is an exhilarating one and thriving in many ways, our ability to provide the best patient care was at risk. There are many crucial issues that could challenge our ability to provide this care if we as ophthalmologists are not vocal advocates for our profession.
I also became aware of the importance of contributing to the Academy’s Surgical Scope Fund and OPHTHPAC® fund.
The Surgical Scope Fund is in place to protect patients by ensuring that surgical procedures are performed by those most trained to perform them, surgeons. OPHTHPAC is a nonpartisan political action committee that exists to guarantee ophthalmologists have a voice in Washington, D.C., regardless of changes in legislature.
On the ground. As I walked through our nation’s beautiful capitol surrounded by the cherry blossoms in fresh bloom, I was filled with excitement. When I entered the halls of the Capitol Building, I was filled with emotion, proud to advocate for the field of ophthalmology and to be a champion for my patients.
However, along with pride, I could not help but feel slight trepidation: would these busy lawmakers be willing to listen to a lowly resident like me? To my surprise the legislators listened attentively as we voiced our concerns, shared stories on our patients’ behalf and reviewed our speaking points. They carefully took notes, asking questions periodically to clarify, ready to work toward solutions.
Dr. Okeagu pictured on Capitol Hill with colleagues during the Academy’s Mid-Year Forum.
No Voice Is Too Small
Years have passed, and I’m now a first-year surgical retina fellow who has had the privilege of attending several Congressional Advocacy Days and Mid-Year Forum meetings over the years. I’m grateful to have been exposed to advocacy very early in my career. Each meeting I have attended has helped me grow as an ophthalmologist and taught me how important it is to be a vocal advocate for our profession.
Without advocacy, we may not be able to provide our patients the care they deserve. And as a first-year resident, I was worried that my voice was not significant enough to be heard. I quickly learned that this could not be further from the truth. The legislators were eager to listen to concerns.
Finally, these meetings reinforced the importance of networking. I’ve made so many great connections through advocacy, and it has allowed me the opportunity to bond with several like-minded ophthalmologists.
Although the Mid-Year Forum and Congressional Advocacy Day went virtual in 2020 and 2021, I look forward to next April when we can meet again in person in Washington, D.C., to continue advocating for our profession and patients. I know that becoming involved in advocacy has made me a better physician.
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Chinwenwa U. Okeagu, MD,
is completing a surgical retina fellowship in 2022 at the Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit, MI.