In 2015, as a rheumatology fellow, Christina Downey, MD, attended the inaugural ACR Advocacy 101 course, put on by rheumatologists Blair Solow, MD, and Sarah Doaty, MD.
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“I thought it was incredibly informative, and I was really surprised at how much legislators and staff did not know about rheumatology, or what it’s like to be a doctor, or to have a chronic condition that can be costly and intrusive on one’s life,” says Dr. Downey, now a rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine at Loma Linda University in California.
This motivated her to return the following year, as a junior organizer. This year, as a member of the ACR’s Government Affairs Committee (GAC), Dr. Downey led the Advocacy 101 course on Sept. 23 in conjunction with the Advocates for Arthritis fly-in event on Sept. 24–25 in Washington, D.C.
Course Attendees, Goals & Agenda
Seventeen attendees took part in the 2018 course, which is open to applications from rheumatology fellows, program directors and, this year, medical students and internal medicine residents. Dr. Downey encourages those who were not selected to apply again next year.
“The goal of the Advocacy 101 course is to get younger clinicians involved and keep them involved,” says Jessica Farrell, PharmD, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and a pharmacist at The Center for Rheumatology. Dr. Farrell is part of a team that worked with Dr. Downey to plan this year’s course. Other members of the team included Bharat Kumar, MD, MME; Chris Morris, MD; Howie Blumstein, MD; Courtney Crayne, MD; and Ethan Craig, MD, MHS.
Attendees heard talks from advocacy leaders and ACR leadership on everything from insurance basics to advocacy tips and tricks; participated in roundtable discussions that covered practical information, from what shoes to wear to how to navigate between the U.S. House and Senate when visiting Capitol Hill during the Advocates for Arthritis event; and learned about the basics of U.S. government.
“We had a lot of really great speakers this year,” says Dr. Downey, including rheumatologist and ACR Board of Directors member Will Harvey, MD, MSc, FACR; GAC Chair Angus Worthing, MD, FACP, FACR; incoming ACR President Paula Marchetta, MD, MBA; lobbyist and former U.S. Senator from Arkansas Tim Hutchinson; and others.
Putting Skills to Use
The following day, the newly trained advocates put their skills to work at the annual Advocates for Arthritis event. Joining with other rheumatology providers, interprofessional team member, and patients from their states or regions, participants discussed with their legislators the key issues on this year’s agenda. These included step therapy, bone density (DXA) screening, billing code consolidation and research funding, all of which Dr. Harvey, Dr. Worthing and others reviewed in advance with participants.
“If I or my colleagues or patients or new fellows don’t go help lawmakers understand what we do, then lawmakers are going to make policy decisions that directly affect us and our patients without knowing what it will do to us,” says Dr. Downey. “I wanted participants to understand that we have a voice and, at a bare minimum, to leave the event knowing they have the tools to use it, that it doesn’t have to be time consuming. It can be as simple as writing a letter or picking up the phone or sending a tweet.”
Kelly April Tyrrell writes about health, science and health policy. She lives in Madison, Wis.