RheumPAC, the ACR’s political action committee (PAC), is tasked with fundraising, vetting legislators, participating in Capitol Hill visits and developing important relationships for the College. During my interview with Gary Bryant, MD, the ACR’s inaugural RheumPAC chair, he shared his thoughts on the role of rheumatology advocacy in advancing clinical practice, research and education.
ACR@Work: Have you always been interested in advocacy?
Dr. Bryant: I am a longtime ACR member, having joined the College before my fellowship. I began my advocacy efforts locally as a Wisconsin state delegate to the State Medical Society of Wisconsin House of Delegates and then as a board member of the Wisconsin State Medical Society, focusing on government affairs. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to join the ACR CORC [Committee on Rheumatologic Care], and that launched my career in rheumatology advocacy. In addition, for 17 years, I have been one of the ACR delegates to the American Medical Association [AMA]. The synergy between the AMA and the ACR on issues relevant to rheumatology is an important aspect of our advocacy efforts.
ACR@Work: What challenges did you face leading the first RheumPAC?
Dr. Bryant: I was on the ACR Board of Directors at the time it launched RheumPAC, and there was much debate among board members about whether the ACR should have a PAC. In the end, the ACR Board felt it was in the best interest of the College. The biggest challenge we faced was educating the membership about the benefits of a PAC and how RheumPAC activities would benefit patients, as well as the membership at large.
ACR@Work: What do you see as the biggest accomplishments of RheumPAC?
Dr. Bryant: The membership has gradually become educated about the role of RheumPAC and involved in advocacy. It became very obvious to us that rheumatologists and rheumatology healthcare providers needed to have a place at the table for legislative issues. RheumPAC provides such a forum for the College and enables us to speak with legislators and represent the College’s views on political issues.
ACR@Work: How can we sustain our rheumatology advocacy efforts?
Dr. Bryant: It is important that peers talk to peers, discuss the important issues facing our profession and highlight the impact we have when we work together as a group. There is nothing like the impact of personal conversations regarding advocacy issues. Through these discussions and a grassroots approach, we will be able to move the College forward and have a place at the table.
ACR@Work: What is the most effective form of advocacy?
Dr. Bryant: Advocacy is a combination of personal connections with legislators at the local, state or national level. That can entail participating in Capitol Hill visits or visiting local legislative offices. Many legislators appreciate local visits from their constituents. Our ability to show support and interest in legislators through conversations and through financial contributions is key to advancing our advocacy efforts. It is important to participate in advocacy both through contributions and by keeping abreast of ACR issues. The ACR website has an advocacy link where any member can gather information on current advocacy issues. Besides visiting local offices or going to events in the district, many rheumatologists and healthcare providers have invited legislators to their offices to see rheumatology care in action. These types of activities have a great impact.
ACR@Work: How d0 you address concerns from members about where their money goes when they donate to RheumPAC?
Dr. Bryant: I emphasize that the decisions about the distribution of funds from RheumPAC is based on where a legislator stands on current ACR issues and whether that legislator holds a leadership position or key committee assignment. In addition, all contributions to candidates are first discussed and researched by RheumPAC, with assistance from ACR staff, before any vote is taken. These decisions are not based on whether the individual legislator is a Democrat, Republican or Independent. Finally, it is important to note that over time, the distribution of contributions to legislators eventually evens out among the political parties, depending on which party is in the majority.
For More Information
If you are interested in joining your colleagues in rheumatology advocacy, visit rheumpac.org to learn more about current policy issues and RheumPAC.
Maura Iversen, BSc, PT, DPT, SD, MPH, is professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences at Northeastern University, a behavioral scientist in the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, Boston.