Members urged to use their voice to make a difference for patients and physicians alike
May 3, 2019 (ACP) – Two new leaders have taken the reins of the American College of Physicians, and they share the same goal on the advocacy front: ACP must tap the power of its collective and individual voices to support patients and physicians.
“Internal medicine specialists deliver a large amount of health care in this country, and our value must be recognized and emphasized,” said Dr. Robert McLean, ACP's new president. “But while representing the plight of our internist colleagues, we must also represent our patients who are struggling to get access to health care. The message must always come back to that.”
Advocacy was what first drew McLean into leadership roles in ACP.
“In the early 1990s, health care reform was part of a large-scale national discussion, and the College was starting to enter that arena in more serious policy ways,” he said. “That expansion into more policy occurred at the local levels as well, and I became active on my Connecticut chapter health and public policy committee. I developed an appreciation for the significant role state medical societies play in state-level advocacy, frequently because they have historically had a greater infrastructure to track those issues. I became a visible face and voice for internal medicine, and that continued to grow over the years, even while I was in practice full-time.”
McLean is proud to highlight his service on ACP's national health and public policy committee in the early and mid-2000s, when several significant health policy papers were developed. “I started attending ACP's Leadership Day in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s and came to realize the importance that physician voices can have helping our legislators understand the impact of various health policies.”
McLean now practices internal medicine and rheumatology in New Haven with the Northeast Medical Group of Yale-New Haven Health, where he is the medical director for clinical quality. He is an associate clinical professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and has served as an attending physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital since 1994.
Dr. Douglas DeLong, the new chair of the ACP Board of Regents, came to advocacy from a medical career spent in very small rural towns. He likes to say he's never practiced anywhere with more than one stoplight, and he recalls spending many nights at a hospital as the only on-duty physician in an entire county.
“Whatever walked in the door,” he said, “was mine.”
DeLong looks forward to the pending release of ACP's “New Vision” initiative, which will lay out a road map toward better health care in the United States.
“Our goal is to release a plan that provides truly universal care at less cost and recognizes the unique skill set of general internists,” he said. “This will garner a lot of attention, and the issues we address will be a big part of the political debate.”
DeLong is chief of the division of general internal medicine at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., and an associate clinical professor of medicine in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.
Moving forward, DeLong said, he hopes to highlight ACP's advocacy efforts. “While it may be under-appreciated a bit considering all the other great things we do,” he said, “I've been thrilled to learn that we do advocacy better than anybody.”
For his part, McLean plans to encourage colleagues to embrace an advocacy role if they want to make a difference on a wider level.
“Do it and do it now,” he said. “All College chapters have individuals involved in health and public policy, and they welcome energetic new members expressing interest.”
Learn from chapter members who already have relationships with policymakers or legislators, he urged, and utilize strong evidence-based policies like those of the ACP to frame conversations.
“It's crucial,” he said, “to advocate for health system reform that ensures affordable, accessible care for all Americans and enables our physicians to practice high-quality care in an efficient manner.”