Physician Advocacy: It All Starts With Engagement

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Written By: William C. Thompson IV, MD, FASA

It wasn’t too long ago that I knew little about the manner by which our profession is guided by government. Certainly, like all physicians, I grew accustomed to regular mailers asking for PAC support and asking me to take action by contacting a legislator. I admittedly grew fatigued of these pleas at times. Yet I was fired up when a poorly thought out piece of legislation was passed that negatively impacted the practice of medicine. What I have come to learn is that my disconnect was fueled by a lack of understanding. There was an impact that I as a physician could make in the legislative process. I am here today to reinforce how powerful physicians can be when they step up and get involved in advocating for their profession.

I was in effect thrown into the fire from the start. Though a member of Arizona Medical Association (ArMA), I had not been involved politically or with policy to a great degree until I was approached to contribute to ArMA’s efforts regarding a topic with which I held firm beliefs. Within a very short amount of time, I went from a being a neophyte with respect to the legislative process in our great state to testifying in committee.  In a room largely filled with an audience that, to put it mildly, did not share my point of view. To my great surprise, however, the committee members actually listened. They listened to what I had to say and were very receptive to my views and those of my ArMA colleagues who also testified on that day. Further, I was actually invited to return to speak again to the health committee by the chair later in the session. I spoke on an issue with which I have had great interest as a Pain Medicine Specialist: the opioid crisis. This set the stage for my being able to take an active role in our government’s efforts to stem this crisis.

I have been fortunate to be educated through the incredible stewardship of those in the legislative affairs field at ArMA. Starting with the recently departed VP of Policy and Political affairs Pele Peacock-Fischer to Steve Barclay and ArMA officials. They have facilitated my ability to gain an understanding of the political process in our state, how to participate in it, and make a mark for our profession. It is through their guidance that I, and many physicians like me, have been given seats at the table to help to shape legislation that arises. We help to address the big-ticket issues facing healthcare in our state.

It all starts with engagement. Sitting on the sideline, angry with an outcome on an issue I did not participate in, accomplished nothing. When you get involved in issues that you believe in, you know that you tried your best for your profession and your patients. Engagement means many things, and even a small effort on our parts can pay dividends in the future.

At a minimum, support your medical association that has boots on the ground day after day in the chaotic legislative session. The pace that things move can be furious, and without this seasoned representation at the legislature, it is impossible to truly know what is happening with the numerous pieces of legislation that affect medicine.

If there is a call to action with respect to contacting your legislator, take the time to do it. It has never been easier given the technological advances available today, and each email sent actually does make a difference.

Get to know your representatives in state government. Arizona’s is composed of a citizen legislature, and our representatives are diverse in terms of their backgrounds, occupations, etc. They are, in my experience, eager to meet with their constituents and learn about what we do. Medical legislation can be quite complex for a medical professional to understand, let alone legislator with no medical experience. Be a resource for them.

One fantastic way to meet your legislators do this is to be the “Doc of the Day” at the legislature. This day is in effect a guided tour of the legislative process with ArMA experts where you will have the opportunity to be introduced to Senators and Representatives and experience the legislative process with a behind the scenes view that most never get to see.

We are all very busy, and not all of us like to testify in public, but if you are so inclined to identify yourself to ArMA’s Legislative and Governmental affairs committee. When issues arise that require a particular expertise it is invaluable to have a roster of practicing physicians to call upon when testimony is needed.

Finally, give to ArMPAC and the PAC for your specialty. Together our voices are much louder and carry more impact.

No matter what level of engagement you choose, from supporting the association to testifying, know that you can make a difference at a state level that will impact your practice, your patients, and the future generations of physicians that will follow us.

William C. Thompson IV, MD, FASA

William C Thompson IV, MD, FASA is a board-certified Pain Medicine Specialist in the East Valley. He currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Legislative and Governmental Affairs Committee with Arizona Medical Association, and on the ArMPAC board of directors. In addition, he is the Vice President of the Arizona Society of Interventional Pain Physicians and treasurer of the Arizona Society of Anesthesiologists.

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