Guest Blog: Giving Power to Patients and Physicians through Advocacy

Right: Heather Smith, MD, MPH
Right: Heather Smith, MD, MPH

One-on-one interaction and patient care is critical to me as an ob-gyn. It’s why I went to medical school after getting my master’s in public health and working in community education. It’s why I got involved in the Massachusetts Medical Society and the AMA during medical school. And it’s a big part of why I advocate.

Federal health policy and its effects on individual and community health first caught my attention while I was earning my master’s in public health at the Boston University School of Public Health, where I worked on a national project that evaluated the effects of welfare reform on children’s health. As I worked on this project I began to see that the intent of federal policy doesn’t always match up with the effects those policies have on an individual level, that public policy plays a significant role in determining community resources and individuals’ health, and that I could play a role in aligning federal policy with individual and community needs.

In today’s often unpredictable political and health care landscape, ob-gyns can often feel powerless to do anything for their patients outside of the exam room or for their specialty outside of their organization. But during my years spent as a practicing ob-gyn and an advocate for change in health policy, I learned that advocacy helps me give my patients and community power over their health that extends beyond my office and my one-on-one patient interactions. The time I spent working on advocacy issues with the AMA as an ACOG delegate and with ACOG’s Government Relations Committee showed me that my voice can also help move the needle on addressing maternal morbidity through establishing state-based maternal mortality review committees, extending Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum, surprise billing, prior authorization, and other key ACOG issues that would enable us as physicians to take care of our patients and advance our specialty as much as possible.

ACOG’s McCain Fellowship offered me an invaluable opportunity to build on my prior advocacy experience. The fellowship drove home the nuances of advocating ACOG issues to legislators and policy makers; especially the fact that getting your voice heard at all and making connections with legislators—an area in which Ob-GynPAC is critical—is just as important as the policy you’re advocating for. My time in Washington, D.C., has bolstered my advocacy in other ways, too: while learning more about how to interact with legislators and advocate on behalf of ACOG issues, I also had the opportunity to see how ACOG works behind the scenes and to understand how strong of a team ACOG truly is. Engaging with staff at ACOG national has helped me understand the difference that ACOG is making for us, our patients, and our specialty—and the difference that we can continue to make in the future.

I encourage anyone who wants to make lasting changes for their patients and their community to get started advocating today. ACOG makes it easy: for example, the Congressional Leadership Conference is a great way to learn the ropes of advocacy and get face time with the legislators who influence health care policy. Your Annual District Meeting will keep you up to date on the latest developments in women’s health care and bring issues that you may otherwise not have noticed to your attention, and your state Lobby Days will help you make a difference on issues such as reproductive health, family planning, and hospital safety on your home turf. If you’re already a seasoned advocate, you can multiply your impact by serving as a point person for your District or Section, which will allow you to share resources, get more people into advocacy, and show your fellow ACOG members what successful advocacy looks like. As an ob-gyn, I make a commitment to take care of my patients. Advocacy is one additional tool that helps me keep that promise.

Heather Smith, MD, MPH
Women & Infants Hospital
Providence, Rhode Island

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