Growing the Impact of Family Medicine Through Advocacy

Nicholas Cohen, MD

Nicholas Cohen, MD

Since medical school, I have seen the unrivaled value family physicians provide to the patients they see. I was unaware—until this month—of the impact family physicians can have beyond their clinic walls on the health of their community at the local, regional, and national level. Our potential impact in this expanded sphere became clear to me on a visit to Capitol Hill with the Family Medicine Congressional Conference.

 What is the Family Medicine Congressional Conference?

FMCC attendees outside the office of Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH.

FMCC attendees outside the office of Senator Sherrod Brown.

It is a 2-day conference in Washington, DC, open to anyone in family medicine. Day one I learned about the current priorities in family medicine and received practical, hands-on training in advocacy. Day two I visited  members of  Congress with others from my state in prearranged meetings to engage legislators in issues important to me and my patients.

Preparing to Go to the Conference

I took the online free advocacy module on the STFM website (see Figure 1).  I liked the specific and detailed training on how to reach out to legislators, what to say in the room, and how to follow-up. figure1-2 I got to speak on the phone with Mary Hall, MD, who was assigned to be my mentor as part of the benefits of the FMCC New Faculty scholarship award I received. We share a passion for our specialty and a desire to change the world. She convinced me advocacy is not playing a role, but being yourself, and letting the ideals that got you where you are shine through.

Memorable Moments From Day 1

1) We took the high road. I liked the principled agenda of the meeting—the issues that we were there to advocate for (see Figure 2) resonated with me and felt important to the health care of everyone. Our agenda was clearly not self-serving or partisan but addressed what would improve the health care for the population. figure2-2

2) We spoke with one voice. It was nice to see family medicine come together as one, with collaboration between groups in our specialty, to share a common agenda for advocacy.

3) We kept it simple. It was great to have the very complicated and numerous political issues affecting health care boiled down to three “asks” —three things that we want our representatives to support in the coming year.

4) We learned the essentials of advocacy. It was a relief to walk through what to say and how to say it in preparation for our meeting with elected officials (see Figure 3). figure3

Memorable Moments From Day 2

The absolute overall most memorable moment was actually a series of moments at each of the members of Congress we visited. I had the overall impression that we had their ear and their respect. I was struck by how many visitors these members of Congress were seeing. I had the impression that these members of Congress could almost kick back with us, that we shared broad and altruistic intentions to advocate for the welfare of the population.

What I Took Away From the Experience

I was not an advocate for family medicine before this conference. Now I see that I could open up a dialogue with elected officials about the issues that affect the health of my patients. I realized that as a family physician armed with an altruistic and broad-minded advocacy agenda, I am respected and listened to in the office of elected officials. I realize that all I really need to know about advocacy I can learn from a module and a 1-day crash course, and the rest is relating the personal stories of my patients in ways that give meaning to the issues addressed.

Take the free online advocacy course and find out more about the Family Medicine Congressional Conference.

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