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Half-listening to the agenda items of the Arizona House Health
and Human Services Committee, I flipped hurriedly through one-page
papers about the issues important to the American College of
Physicians. In a few hours, I would be face-to-face with a state
senator, then a district representative - I had no clue what I
would say to either of them. I thought I'd arrive at the state
capitol to learn how to advocate for my chosen profession by
shadowing seasoned lobbying physicians. It never crossed my mind
that I'd be chatting up state politicians with the hope of
educating them about matters important to the more than 3,000
doctor and medical student members of the Arizona Chapter of the
"Just speak from your heart," advised Dr. Ana Maria Lopez,
governor of the ACP's Arizona chapter.
With barely two quarters of medical school behind me, I can tell
you that my heart didn't have much to say in terms of health
I had just completed a week of daily final exams and had not had
much time to review the Arizona health policy landscape. How was I
going to be able to have a conversation about issues relevant to
patient care and the practice of internal medicine, while
remembering to promote specific pieces of legislation? I was
worried how I would even go about introducing myself.
Thank goodness that the purpose of the Arizona ACP chapter's
third annual Doctors' Day was to give physicians and aspiring
physicians the opportunity to learn about the state political
In a state senate conference room, with the Doctors' Day
"freshmen" and veterans, we reviewed the bills and issues meant to
be discussed with our legislators: health information exchanges,
patient-centered medical home (PCMH) models, and graduate medical
education funding. Health organization representatives, with
experience lobbying legislators, answered questions on what to say,
what to ask, how to respond.
Throughout the day, a few policymakers would talk to us about
the importance of civic engagement and the general political
process. We also had time to observe the legislature in action from
the committee level to the house and senate galleries.
Sometime during the working breakfast, the working lunch, the
briefings, a few of us would leave - furnished with our growing
fund of political knowledge - for individual or small-group
meetings with our legislators.
It is true that internists can advocate for their profession and
their patients at industry-related conventions and conferences.
They can effect change and educate the public via
community-outreach efforts. In talking with policymakers, however,
I see that doctors may have the greatest influence and impact by
engaging those in politics: These policymakers do craft the laws
that determine how physicians can actually practice.
But how are politicians to make decisions affecting the health
care industry when doctors and patients aren't updating them on the
issues? Aspiring and working physicians can effect change and
improve patient care, just by sharing their stories with
Regardless of how I'd like to practice medicine three years from
now, political decisions made in 2010 (i.e., Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act), last year or last week, will influence
ultimately how I practice medicine and care for my patients.
Lack of funding for a capped number of graduate medical
education positions, for example, will limit my career options.
Partisan discord about the implementation of probable
cost-effective measures, such as health information exchanges and
PCMHs, will influence my relationships with patients and
colleagues. The PCMH model seeks to foster the growth of
coordinated health care teams, improving patients' access to
quality, cost-effective care throughout their lives. A health
information exchange for physicians and other medical professionals
would hopefully strengthen this coordinated care approach.
I may not be able to persuade politicians to support programs
specific to physicians and patient care, as financing such measures
could mean diverting funds from small businesses, community
services, or public schools. I can, however, share my story and my
hopes so my community representatives are at least aware of the
issues important to me.
As a voter and future physician, I can help my political
representatives understand how their legislative decisions affect
my livelihood and the health of my future patients.
The conversations I had with Arizona state representatives were
exhilarating and educational. With the support of the ACP and
Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, I was able to learn
how politicians weigh decisions, how lobbyists educate and
sometimes influence policymakers, and how doctors can advocate for
patients outside of the medical office.
Leslie Tamura, OMS-1
Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine
Back to May
2012 Issue of IMpact
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