I have tried to wrap my head around why being politically vocal on healthcare issues makes some physicians uncomfortable. I am always inspired by how many people show up to a code in the hospital and are willing to lend a hand because a life is in jeopardy. After all, that is what we are trained to do. We know that an organized effort must be executed in a code so the best possible outcome can be achieved. I have witnessed many brave men and women skillfully perform life saving maneuvers during emergencies. In situations of life and death, we know that our efforts are best when they are coordinated.
In a poll we conducted of the CIR membership in January of this year, members overwhelmingly listed altruism or helping others as the top reason they went into medicine. These values drive us to work hard to get patients what they need, even when their insurance or lack of insurance is a barrier to care.
As physicians, we learn to master the system, working with other healthcare professionals to break through bureaucracy and barriers to care. But when you think about it, many of the challenges we face in our jobs are actually rooted in policy on the local, state and federal levels.
Our advocacy for patients doesn’t need to stop when we leave the hospital or the clinic. We ought to share our knowledge and experience with elected officials and policy makers so that meaningful changes can be made in our healthcare system.
During my residency in Otolaryngology at the University of New Mexico, we worked with politicians in Bernalillo County to encourage voters to maintain the “mill levy,” a tax that provides more than $80 million for indigent patient care in our state. We had to combine efforts with candidates who supported what was best for our patients.
As the UNM CIR chapter grew, we continued to have open dialogue with elected officials about key issues facing residents – childcare for physicians with families, greening the hospital, and preventing disastrous cuts to Medicaid were some of the priority issues that couldn’t be addressed without advocacy at the local and state levels.
We took it a step further and developed an endorsement process so we could hear directly from the candidates on how they would tackle these issues. When our endorsed candidates win, they understand they are accountable to us.
This fall, as the election season moves forward, let’s be sure to vote, but let’s also consider what we can do politically as doctors over the next four years to improve health care access, quality and affordability. I hope this issue of CIR Vitals will give you some ideas of how to get involved. I am calling a code on our health care system – and I hope you will show up!