Despite growing up and attending college in the Washington, D.C., metro area, I somehow managed to avoid spending any significant amount of time on Capitol Hill. In the past, the flight home from Indianapolis was characterized by the excitement of reuniting with friends and family for a short, often chaotic visit. This time, I experienced a healthy mixture of excitement and anxiety for finally experiencing what it was like to meet with legislators and advocate for the critical issues facing emergency medicine today.
While the first days of the conference were jam-packed with energizing speakers, the most inspiring session to me was part of the Health Policy Primer presented by EMRA and the ACEP YPS. The session featured an open forum, panel-style discussion with several top health policy journalists: Sarah Kliff of Vox, Dan Diamond of Politico, and Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News.
It was intriguing to learn how health policy journalism is created and consumed in the rapidly changing world of media. As an open forum, there were many tough questions from the audience that inspired heartfelt and difficult responses from the panel. Several questions spurred a thought-provoking discussion regarding the disconnect that is often present between reality and public perception of key health care issues, such as billing in the emergency department. The panelists concluded by encouraging physicians to become involved in journalism to help bridge the gap on key issues.
Finally, the day on the Hill arrived. As I prepared to walk into the first of many meetings, I was nervous to meet with my legislators. After all, who would listen to a junior resident discussing advocacy initiatives? While my information packet provided me with all of the details I could ever need, it was nerve-wracking to think that my limited experiences would collectively represent my colleagues and patients. But after a few minutes of speaking with the legislator and her assistant, all apprehension had dissipated. For physicians, advocacy is instinctive. After all, the majority of our clinical work revolves around advocating for our patients. Whether in the resus bay or on the Hill, the principle is the same—do the right thing for the patient. It’s difficult to know whether my individual efforts influenced any policy decisions, but I certainly felt proud to advocate for my patients at this level.
Although this was my first time participating in LAC, it will certainly not be my last. If there’s one thing that I learned from the experience, it’s that the conference instills pride in the work that we do every day. Since returning to Indianapolis, I find myself energized and inspired to continue advocacy efforts in my community. As emergency physicians, we operate on the front lines of the health care system—our unique perspective has the potential to inform critical issues that make a real difference for our patients. If we do not continue to advocate for them, no one else will.
Dr. Eales is an emergency medicine resident at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.