Meet Dr. Shakaib 'Shak' Rehman, 2023 Richard Neubauer Advocate for Internal Medicine Award Winner

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Dr. Rehman has organized Arizona Hill Day for many years and has developed training tools for effective advocacy

Oct. 6, 2023 (ACP) — For the past 20 years, Dr. Shakaib “Shak” Rehman has accompanied 10 or more medical students to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for the American College of Physicians annual Leadership Day. While there, Rehman and students meet with key policymakers to influence the legislative process on behalf of internal medicine.

“Every time a student or trainee attends Leadership Day, their eyes open up, and they start to become a lifelong advocate of social justice,” said Rehman, associate chief of staff for education at Phoenix Veterans Affairs Healthcare Systems, interim chair and professor in the department of biomedical informatics and professor of internal medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix.

He has also organized an Arizona Hill Day for several years and has developed training tools to help attendees learn to be effective advocates. Over the years, he has influenced and inspired around 500 medical students to get involved with state or national advocacy work.

These are just some of the many reasons why Rehman received the 2023 Neubauer Advocate for Internal Medicine Award, which 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.

Rehman was surprised and humbled by the nomination and the win. “I had no hope to get selected as there is such great talent among ACP members,” he said.

Rehman has been in practice for 34 years and has been involved with ACP for 30 years. Advocacy for the greater good has always been a part of his core mission as a physician. “I am chair of admissions at my medical school, and I get to read hundreds of personal statements from people applying to medical school,” Rehman said, “and all applications have one thing in common: They want to make a difference.”

Looking back, he remembers feeling the same when first applying to medical school. “I wanted to make a big difference, but I didn't know how to do it or what I needed to do,” he recalled.

It was getting involved with ACP and advocating for broader policy changes that enabled him to feel like he was making a difference. “Most physicians forget that we can't be committed to improving the health and wellness of patients without engaging in the social struggle for health,” he said, adding that physicians should also work toward making the environment healthier for patients and ensuring the safety of their food and water supply.

Throughout his career, Rehman has served on the ACP Arizona Chapter Governor Advisory Council as the chair of the Advocacy/Health Policy Committee and annual meeting planning committees. He is also on the ACP Health and Public Policy Committee and the ACP Political Action Committee board. Additionally, Rehman was awarded ACP Laureate Awards from two different ACP chapters and has received numerous other awards from the Society of General Internal Medicine, American Medical Women's Association, International Association on Communication in Healthcare, Department of Veterans Affairs and many medical schools.

Rehman also helped remove the stigma around mental illness and substance abuse for physicians applying for licensure. “An estimated 300 to 400 doctors commit suicide every year,” he explained, “and part of the reason that they don't seek help is that medical licensing boards have strict criteria for licensing approval and renewal and ask applicants to disclose substance use or mental health treatment over the past five years, including details of the disorder and contact information for the treating providers.”

Thanks in part to efforts by Rehman, the Arizona Licensing Board changed its license application question related to mental health, and many other states have followed this lead. The new section of the licensure applications only asks the applicant to disclose a known, current condition that may impair their ability to practice safely.

Perhaps most notable, when Congress was about to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Rehman helped convince late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to vote against the bill and saved the day. Other advocacy issues on his radar include reducing firearms-related injuries and deaths, the ongoing physician shortage and physician payment reform.

“Being a physician involves more than just caring for the one patient in front of you,” he said.

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