Guest Blog: My Life As A Gellhaus Fellow

An introduction by Thomas Gellhaus, MD: ACOG has an incredible commitment to advocacy for our patients and our members. For many years, ACOG has offered programs—such as the annual Congressional Leadership Conference and the McCain Fellowship—that provide ob-gyns with an interest in advocacy an opportunity to learn more about the legislative process and speak to Congress about women’s health issues. However, there were no programs specifically geared toward our younger MDs, ACOG Junior Fellows, and ob-gyn residents.

I founded the Gellhaus Resident Advocacy Fellowship in 2010 to provide just such an opportunity. Since then, we’ve had 14 residents complete the program, and three additional residents have been selected for 2014. During their month-long advocacy and policy immersion experience with ACOG’s Government Relations division, residents complete a project and also write a short summary of their experience. Many, if not all, of the past Gellhaus Fellows have gone on to do further advocacy and policy work.

I was bitten by the advocacy bug in 1994, and hopefully many more ACOG members will with this opportunity. It is evident from Sara Tikkanen’s article below that she has also been bitten!

Sara Tikkanen, MD

Sara Tikkanen, MD

My Life as a Gellhaus Fellow

When I first found out I had been chosen as a Gellhaus Fellow, I was ecstatic. I was excited to go to Washington, DC, for a month during my chief year to learn more about ACOG, our government, and advocacy. After my initial excitement had settled, I was somewhat nervous, primarily because I wondered: “Do I know enough to make a difference?”

Soon after my arrival, I was put at ease by the fantastic staff at ACOG who gave me a crash course on women’s health advocacy. After attending my first few Hill meetings and other government relations events, it became clear that I indeed knew a thing or two about medicine, and I was in a unique position to provide a new and different perspective to the legislators who actually make decisions that directly impact our ability to practice medicine.

During my time at ACOG, I have mainly focused on the issue of the ob-gyn workforce as it relates to the Affordable Care Act. In my opinion, now is the time to focus on the impact that 10 million more women needing gynecologic care will have on hard-working physicians already stretched thin with time and resources. I have tried to highlight the importance of continued Graduate Medical Education funding so that we can increase our workforce. A great example of this is the The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction and Graduate Medical Education Accountability and Transparency Act which would help create more residency slots.

I have also focused on the importance of tort reform so that current practitioners can continue to provide care without the burden of high medical liability insurance premiums. I have participated in discussions addressing the implications of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, the flawed formula used to determine physician payment rates, and the efforts to repeal it. A vast majority of the lawmakers I have spoken with agree that we need a fix. While few seem to have a concrete solution in mind, all are open and eager to discuss possible solutions.

My time here has been wonderful and eye-opening experience. It’s motivated me to become more involved as a resident at the University of Iowa, and upon graduating, as practicing obgyn in the great state of Wisconsin. I’d like to thank Dr. Gellhaus and the staff at ACOG for making this month possible.

In reflecting on my experience, the most important thing I’ve learned is that I have an obligation to be an advocate, not only for my patients but also for ob-gyns and physicians as a whole. Decisions which directly impact our ability to care for our patients and ability to practice medicine are being made by legislators who do not know nearly as much about medicine and the day-to-day challenges associated with being a physician as the physicians themselves. I challenge each Fellow and Junior Fellow to take an active role whether that be at a hospital, state, or federal level. Only by being involved can we make a difference.

Sara Tikkanen, MD, is an ob-gyn resident at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.

Sara Tikkanen, MD, with Senator Tom Harkin

Sara Tikkanen, MD, with Senator Tom Harkin

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