This article was adapted from Dr. Simpson’s AAO 2015 YO Program presentation, “Investing in Your Future - Advocacy.”
If you attended AAO 2015 in Las Vegas last month, you couldn’t help but notice the emphasis on advocacy. From the “I am an Advocate” posters every 20 feet to the chat that Academy President Russ Van Gelder, MD, PhD, had with young ophthalmologists on Sunday, advocacy was everywhere.
Why the big push? Because our profession as a whole — and young ophthalmologists in particular — seems to be finding more and more reasons to opt out of advocacy. So what’s keeping YOs from participating?
- Interest — Politics can be crazy, as this year’s election cycle seems to prove again and again. For those of us who value reason and logic, that kind of spectacle doesn’t necessarily appeal to us.
- Knowledge — As physicians and surgeons, we are used to being the intelligent ones in the room. We know a whole lot about the incredible complexity that is the human visual system, but we don’t necessarily know much about the incredible complexity of the U.S. health care system. Even fewer of us can dissect and understand pieces of health care legislation. We usually like to have as much information as possible before taking action, so speaking out on issues we don’t fully understand can be unsettling.
- Someone Else Will Do It Better — Plenty of senior ophthalmologists in our field have been doing this much longer, have a better understanding of the issues, and have a lot more experience at advocacy than we do. Why would a legislator want to hear from a resident or attending barely out of training when he or she could hear from the president of the Academy?
- Money — Many of the traditional ways our profession advocates cost money. Membership dues are required for the Academy and our state societies; donating to OPHTHPAC and the Surgical Scope Fund isn’t free either. Ophthalmologists in training or recently in practice face a student-loan debt burden that is significantly larger than ophthalmologists who trained before us. Combine that with reduced reimbursement rates and YOs today simply don’t have the same financial resources early in our career that ophthalmologists have enjoyed in the past. We can’t afford to join every advocacy group.
- Time — As young ophthalmologists, we are busy focusing all our efforts on finishing our training or building our practice. That consumes all of our time. Any leftover seconds are spent with our neglected family and pets, and if we’re lucky, a few hours of sleep. We don’t have time to advocate right now.
Why None of Those Excuses Matter
Yes, that’s right. None of those excuses matter … because advocacy works on the same principle as vaccines.
As physicians, we know vaccines only work when everyone does their part. One individual vaccination does nothing to stop a disease, even if that person is the most powerful, influential person in the world. The true power in vaccines lies in numbers; with each person doing a small part to build herd immunity.
Advocacy is exactly the same. A few powerful, vocal leaders are nothing without a large group of people taking a few minutes from their day to participate in advocacy.
When we are supported by an overwhelming number of advocates, our profession can be an incredible force; but when people start to opt out — because we believe we don’t know enough about the issues, don’t have enough time or money or think someone else is better qualified — then the protection we all benefit from starts to dissipate.
Advocacy is critical to the health of our patients and the success of our profession. The burden lies equally on all of us — from the most overworked first-year resident to the most senior professor emeritus — to be an advocate.
The Academy offers many ways to advocate on behalf of your patients and your profession. Learn how you can get involved.
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About the author: Rachel Simpson, MD, is a PGY3 at the University of California at Davis and participated in the Academy’s 2015 Advocacy Ambassador Program.