Berryman has been recruiting medical students to attend Leadership Day and advocates with legislators in Minnesota
June 3, 2022 (ACP) — When George Floyd Jr., an African-American man, was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis during an arrest in May 2020, Dr. Sally Berryman knew it was time to turn up the volume and call attention to racism as a public health threat.
No stranger to advocacy work, Berryman, an internal medicine physician at the University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center and an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Medicine Division of General Internal Medicine, quickly doubled down on her efforts to promote health equity and racial justice in the aftermath of the tumult.
“That was a tough time,” recalled Berryman, who received the 2022 Richard Neubauer Advocate for Internal Medicine Award for her contributions toward advancing the American College of Physicians public policy agenda. The award is named for the late Dr. Richard L. Neubauer, who was a member of the ACP Board of Regents, governor for the ACP Alaska Chapter and strong advocate for internal medicine.
“We were very disturbed by police violence on innocent protesters and people who were being apprehended, and we had looked at a policy regarding that and continued to advocate for nonlethal forms of managing the apprehension of suspects and ways to promote de-escalation techniques and encourage community involvement,” Berryman explained.
These issues were important before Floyd was murdered, but they became amplified in the wake of his death. “We now have a louder voice and have published letters in newspapers and op-eds, and at a minimum, we have contributed to raising awareness about racism as a public health threat,” Berryman said. Her hope is that meaningful policy change will soon follow.
Berryman has also been active in advocating for improved access to mental health services and ensuring health equity for COVID-19 testing and services.
She has been a member of the Minnesota ACP Chapter Health and Public Policy Committee since 2017 and serves as the current chair. Nominated for the Neubauer Award by the Minnesota Chapter Governor Dr. David R. Hilden, Berryman attended and participated in the ACP Leadership Day event from 2016 to 2019 and attended again this year. Leadership Day, the flagship ACP advocacy event, is a two-day conference where members meet with and lobby legislators and staff on key advocacy issues affecting the practice of internal medicine.
To pass the baton and get the younger generation of doctors excited about advocacy, Berryman recruits medical students to attend ACP Leadership Day and to submit applications for Minnesota-ACP travel scholarships for the national training/conference. “Her passion for mentoring more junior ACP members at the federal level through Leadership Day has allowed our chapter to have a strong and lasting presence at the national level with our Congressional delegation,” Hilden wrote in the nomination letter.
Berryman established a clerkship for students interested in primary care that includes advocacy in the curriculum. “We go and visit legislators and learn how to navigate legislative processes,” she explained.
Some of her advocacy work is personal. Berryman's mother passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 60, and Berryman successfully lobbied to pass a bill providing $25 million for ALS research and caregiving support in Minnesota.
She has learned some lessons along the way as well: It is important to be nimble when it comes to advocacy work, as sometimes you need to pivot at a moment's notice, she noted. “Each year, our state chapter develops a list of advocacy priorities for the year, which we adjust and modify as needed,” she explained.
It is also important to collaborate. “We meet with all state medical societies so we can review, compare and contrast our priorities, network and join forces,” Berryman added.
She believes everyone can do something. “I strongly encourage people to get involved, whether educating themselves on what is going on with policy all the way up to being active in a medical society, joining committees or testifying before Congress,” she said. “Advocacy doesn't feel like a chore because it's a passion.”