This month, I have talked to two former trainees who are contemplating major changes in their career- -to leave medicine. Both are in private practice and are frustrated by many different things that they see in their practice and are inspired to improve the practice of medicine. While their desire to leave medicine is concerning enough and could be the subject of this entire post, I was actually struck that both of them contacted me to find out how they could find out more about health policy and get involved. One of them wondered if they needed to get a Public Policy Degree like I did. The other one thought maybe she would have to move to DC to become more active in the health policy arena. I also recall wondering how to get involved many years ago and thinking the same thing. Fortunately, I was able to find a way to balance my interest in advocacy without giving up my job. So, before I sent them packing to the Hill or back to school to read seminal texts in public policy and weekly economic homework assignments, I thought there are a few things they could do to engage while they stay in their job if they choose to.
- Learn from professional society advocacy experiences. Some people will react and say that they have a negative opinion about “lobbying” or the special interests of their professional society. My advice is that if you don’t have a basic terminology of healthcare reform and the healthcare system (i.e. SGR, ACO, etc.), then this is a great place to start -with other physicians who are also learning.
- Read the news foraciously – the best way to understand what is happening on the Hill is to keep up with the news. While this may seem like a tall order, customizing Google news and setting alerts for healthcare reform or whatever it is that you are interested in can be helpful. In addition, the iPad has amazing news applications that aggregate your favorite news sources and blogs (my personal favorites are PulseNews and FLUD, which even touts itself as the sexy news ecosystem). My go to sources are still the New York Times Health Section and NPR Health, especially anything written by Julie Rovner. Another excellent source for health policy which you can add to your reading list include The Healthcare Blog, Kaiser Health News, and the “Bob Blogs” as I refer to them (see the blogroll below) . Even if you can’t read the article right away, you can often ‘favorite’ it to read later or send to InstaPaper.
- Engage in Social Media – Social media has become one of the best ways to stay on top of health policy news, especially thanks to KevinMD and his steady stream of diverse and eclectic contributors that include medical students, patients, physicians, and health policy wonks. In addition to the usual news sources listed above, you can also keep on top of professional society news (see the medicalsocieties Twitter list) or use healthcare hashtags to stay abreast of the situation. However, the key to effectively using social media is more than just staying informed, but also interacting and engaging and contributing to the dialogue. So that brings us to the last way to get involved….
- Write – whether it be a comment on a newspaper article or blog post, a letter to the editor to your local newspaper, or a blog post about a specific health policy issue, writing is a great way to get the word out. Policy narrative has become increasingly valued among physicians. That is because there is nothing more compelling to the general public or legislators like a personal story. One of our own faculty has specialized in this area and teaches our students how to use policy narrative in their practice.
While some have a natural tendency to write, it may not be intuitive to others. Fortunately, this year I was lucky enough to attend a session at the IHI meeting led by disciples of Marshall Ganz and dedicated on how to tell your story in a compelling way in 5 easy steps:
- Write the story of self (personal narrative)
- The story of us (to build a shared vision)
- The story of now (to highlight the urgency)
- Then present a choice (to raise the tension)
- End with asking for a commitment
One of our homework assignments was to practice so I actually chose to write a story to convincing others to come with me to DC for the American College of Physicians Leadership Day since I am leading this year’s Illinois delegation. So here is my narrative for why you should join me:
When I first went to DC to lobby with ACP Leadership Day, I remember feeling awkward and relying on a medical student who showed me how to approach legislators. The next year, I remember our student had graduated so I assumed the mentor position for the new people. Two years later, I got a call that they needed a young physician to testify to Congress about the need for physician payment reform and I was thrilled to be able to do so on my 33rd birthday. I know you have also wondered about how to get involved with healthcare policy but like me, you are very busy and overcommitted. The key is that time is of the essence as the future of healthcare legislation is being debated in this election year and your input is critical to shaping the future. So, I know that this May, you could stay at work and continue your everyday activities or you could decide to take action and go to Washington to witness and contribute to the political dialogue around healthcare. So, I am asking you to commit to joining me as internists will come together to communicate the importance of affordable healthcare and preserving primary care for Americans.
Look forward to hearing your stories too.
–Vineet Arora, MD MAPP