While waiting outside the office of my assigned U.S. representative for our meeting to begin, I had a nagging feeling that I was out of my league. I had never been politicking before and felt like an imposter and a tourist. The legislator’s initial reaction did not encourage me.
Once in the meeting, our group brought up a truth-in-advertising law that would require optometrists to be transparent and display their credentials clearly for patients. The representative respectfully noted his apathy toward turf battles and voiced his priority for improving access to care.
All that changed when I remembered a patient I met on call. “I agree,” I began. “Access is important.” I then told the story of my patient with an anterior chamber foreign body. His optometrist managed this intraocular foreign body solo for seven days by scraping the cornea, all the while treating it as if it was a corneal foreign body, before finally sending the patient to our ER. The patient missed out on safe, high-quality care because he trusted the person in a white coat whose credentials he did not understand.
While I shared this story, I was amazed by how the congressman’s body language changed as he became visibly more receptive. After I finished speaking, he shared his own story — of someone close to him who suffered an unfortunate globe trauma accident while handling a campaign sign. He was visibly moved. We exchanged contact information, and he asked us to be his future liaisons for eye care issues.
The meeting taught me a vital lesson: Legislators want and need our input. If we do not deliver our unique insight as to how their laws affect our patients’ welfare, who will? Many legislators are undecided on issues that directly affect the future of our profession and the well-being of our patients.
The political arena in eye care is much more open and susceptible to your involvement than you probably think, even more so at the state level.
You do not need a background in politics. Each of you already has the most powerful tool available for turning apathy into empathy: your patients’ stories.
Last year, the Texas State Senate almost passed Bill 577, which would have allowed optometrists to manage glaucoma independently. Our most powerful allies in stopping that bill were those patients who lost vision due to mismanagement of glaucoma by optometrists and who stood ready to testify.
Do not wait for a last-minute surprise hearing to share your patients’ voices with legislators. Connect with your elected officials now. Join your state’s political action committee and the Academy’s OPHTHPAC® Fund and Surgical Scope Fund. If each of us does the above, we will take back charge of our profession. More importantly, we’ll protect the welfare of our patients, which is why we went into medicine in the first place.
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About the author: Soheil M. Daftarian, MD, is currently chief resident, PGY-4, at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Department of Ophthalmology.