As women’s health continues to come under attack at the federal and state level the importance of advocacy cannot be overstated. We need educated voices to weigh in on key issues. It is only through continued advocacy that we can protect our patients’ access to care and preserve the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship.
Ob-gyns are getting the message: More than 330 ob-gyns attended ACOG’s annual Congressional Leadership Conference (CLC) in March—our highest attendance yet. During the CLC, we have the opportunity to meet with congressional leaders to call attention to key ob-gyn issues. We also learn about the importance of women’s health advocacy on the state level, where many laws that affect how we care for our patients are passed. Often, our expert testimony can be very meaningful when bills are still in committee.
In Virginia, we were struggling to find a way to have physicians available for these committee sessions, but we believe we’ve found a good solution. Each year, the Virginia Section sponsors approximately six members to attend the CLC. This year, to encourage state advocacy, we adopted a “pay it forward” approach to this sponsorship. We now expect our sponsored members to spend one full day during the legislative session in Richmond, ready to speak to lawmakers.
The Virginia General Assembly meets every year from January to March. The key committees meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and bills often come up without warning. Our lobbyist can testify on our behalf, but the message is always better received when delivered by a physician. In 2013, we aimed to have at least one ACOG Fellow or Junior Fellow attend each Tuesday and Thursday of the legislative session.
By implementing this new system, as bills came up, there was always someone who could testify. Our lobbyist knew she would have coverage, and we knew our voices would be heard. On days when testimony was not needed, the ob-gyn would accompany our lobbyist on “rounds” of key legislators to discuss women’s health issues from our perspective.
Our CLC group wasn’t large enough to cover every Tuesday and Thursday during the session, so we also asked other ob-gyns to volunteer, offering to reimburse them for mileage and lunch. Our ob-gyn representatives enjoyed their one-on-one experience and are looking to build on the relationships they formed in the off-season so that we can continue to be strong advocates for women’s health.
We found this new process to be a very effective way to encourage state advocacy, and we hope to expand participation in 2014 by increasing volunteer outreach at our annual section meeting. I invite other ACOG sections to give this formula a try. More voices in more states speaking up for women is a goal that we should all strive to achieve.
Holly S. Puritz, MD is chair of ACOG’s Virginia Section.
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