While growing up in California’s capital city, Sacramento, Christina Downey, MD, learned early on that it’s important to speak up for what’s important to her. When she completed her fellowship and joined the ACR in 2015, she found her way to the ACR’s Advocacy 101 program, which trains rheumatologists to become advocates in Washington, D.C., as part of the ACR’s Advocates for Arthritis fly-in event each September.
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“It’s been important to me to make advocacy a part of my rheumatology practice, because speaking directly to legislators about how policy decisions impact rheumatologic care truly makes a difference for our patients,” says Dr. Downey, an assistant professor of medicine with the Department of Rheumatology at Loma Linda University Health in Loma Linda, Calif.
Three years after becoming a member of the ACR, Dr. Downey now serves on the College’s Government Affairs Committee (GAC), which works to ensure rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals have a voice on Capitol Hill, with federal agencies, and in state legislatures, and helps other ACR/ARHP members realize the power of advocacy in improving patient care.
She notes two of the many wins GAC celebrated recently: 1) the cancellation of the Medicare Part B Demonstration Project and 2) participation in a coalition to address pharmacy benefit manager concerns, such as better transparency.
“This year, we continue to lend a reasoned voice on Capitol Hill to make sure the focus of healthcare remains on the patient,” Dr. Downey shares. “As changes continue in the healthcare policy arena, I’m excited to see our influence with helping the country redefine healthcare delivery and cost containment overall.”
Dr. Downey believes the key to ensuring a strong voice in Washington, D.C., is connecting with fellows and early career rheumatologists to get involved early on. “Through Advocacy 101 and the work of GAC, we can inspire the habit of advocacy to advance our profession and educate our legislators.”
Leading up to this year, Dr. Downey has worked as a participant, then a junior assistant, and is now one of the leaders in planning and conducting the ACR’s Advocacy 101 program started by ACR members Blair Solow, MD and Sarah Doaty, MD. The program involves a day of training on how policymaking works and how to talk to legislators and educate them on the rheumatology physician perspective. Participants then take their training to the Capitol to meet with legislators, share stories from their practice and encourage policy decisions that support patient care.
In the next year, she is working to hand the reins of leading Advocacy 101 over to a new rheumatology fellow to continue inspiring the next generation of advocacy experts for the College. Already this year as part of a larger working group within GAC, she helped to draft the ACR’s policy statements for 2018.
Making Time to Advocate
Taking an active role in advocating for rheumatology also gives Dr. Downey one more way to support her patients, and she enjoys sharing information about her advocacy work with them, because it lets them know she’s speaking up about important issues, such as access to medications and treatments. “Patients are happy to know you are taking care of them, even beyond the walls of your practice.”
She says advocacy work is just as important at the state and local levels, because all legislators want to hear directly from physicians about how policies affect patients. “If they don’t hear from us, they will be making decisions based on bad information or no information, which is not a good outcome for anyone.”
Recognizing the time constraints busy physicians face, Dr. Downey says advocacy must be something you build into your schedule. This is something she does literally, scheduling time on her calendar for her advocacy work with the ACR around her practice and personal life.
Outside of work, Dr. Downey keeps busy with her husband and two children by exploring new places in the outdoors through hiking, kayaking and surfing. She also keeps herself grounded through a dedicated yoga practice.
Any members who are interested in getting involved with Advocacy 101 or other advocacy work can contact Dr. Downey.
Read study findings about how members who participated in the ACR’s Advocacy 101 program increased engagement in health policy and advocacy.
Carina Stanton is a freelance science journalist based in Denver.