The same week that I attended Mid-Year Forum, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a small bipartisan bill that local ophthalmologists like myself introduced. It was fitting timing: My journey to helping pass that bill started two years earlier at my first Mid-Year Forum.
Taking the Fight Home
Author Vijay Mehta, MD (far left) at Mid-Year Forum 2017 with Claire Kiernan, MD; Janice Law, MD; Ronnie Milam, MD; and Tom Mendel, MD. Dr. Law is associate director of the ophthalmology residency program at Vanderbilt University, where all but Dr. Kiernan are residents.
Two years ago, I attended my first Mid-Year Forum as part of the Advocacy Ambassador Program. I left the meeting motivated to be more vocal for my patients and profession. I joined the Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology and took on small projects to improve local membership numbers and social media outreach.
Soon thereafter, my fellow ophthalmologists and I spent a day discussing a new bill — the “Eyedrop Bill” — at the Tennessee Doctor Day on the Hill. This piece of legislation keeps insurance plans from denying coverage for a refill of eyedrops after certain time periods. We met with nearly 10 state legislators to discuss how important it is to allow our patients to refill their eyedrops a few days sooner, before their bottles run dry. We discussed the challenges of using eyedrops, especially for our elderly patients, and how our bill was fiscally responsible, reducing costs in the long term and make a substantial difference in our patients’ lives in the short term.
By starting in our own backyards, we will have a better opportunity to make a significant impact in the future.
TNAO’s Doctor Day on the Hill was also a great opportunity to reinforce the primary motivation for everything we do — our patients. These meetings reminded our state representatives that we are not only their constituents, but that we also care deeply about the wellbeing of all their other constituents.
Did we increase access to health care in Tennessee in one fell swoop? Hardly. Did we win a major legislative battle limiting surgery to real surgeons? Nope. But these issues are certainly on the horizon in Tennessee, just as they are already affecting many states across the nation. By starting in our own backyards, we will have a better opportunity to make a significant impact in the future.
Following Your Passion Home
Making the leap to local advocacy after the excitement of the Mid-Year Forum is challenging. It’s not as sexy or high profile as politicking on Capitol Hill. Once you leave Washington, D.C., you get bogged down in the trenches of residency, issues with call, and overbooked VA clinics.
But I learned some simple advice at this year’s L.E.A.P. Forward program that we can all take to heart. Whatever you do — whether it’s coaching your children’s sports team, working with local nonprofits or staying engaged on school boards — follow your passion, have fun and embed yourself in your community.
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About the author: Viraj J. Mehta, MD, MBA, is currently a PGY-4 at Vanderbilt University. He starts an oculoplastics fellowship this July at Mayo Clinic. Vanderbilt Eye Institute sponsored him to attend the Academy’s Mid-Year Forum 2017 as an Advocacy Ambassador Program participant.