For many years I had no interest in politics. I focused my energy on caring for my patients and my family. My interest in public policy wasn’t cultivated in college, medical school, or at work. Instead, it was born of necessity, groomed by mentors, and became a passion.
In 2010, I was elected the Rhode Island Section vice chair/legislative chair. I was expected to testify at the State House, meet with legislators, and write op-eds. I was invited to ACOG’s Congressional Leadership Conference, which emphasized and trained proper advocacy. Two days into the conference, I met with Rhode Island’s federal lawmakers—alone. I returned home inspired to advocate on behalf of women and women’s health practitioners. Advocacy did not come naturally, but my passion for the issues did.
I was thrilled to be selected as a 2013 McCain Fellow. On my second day, I met with a coalition of lobbyists supporting maternal and childhood health formed to educate Congress on sequestration’s negative effects on families. I was surprised to learn how many bills affect maternal-fetal health. Briefings on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and a reproductive rights bill seemed obvious, but the Toxic Substances Control Act hearings were unexpectedly relevant.
I attended numerous meetings with congressional leaders. At one, I sat beside Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), an Iraq War veteran and one of the first females to fly combat missions in Iraq. During one mission, her helicopter was shot down; she lost both legs and partial use of her arm. When I asked how she handles today’s partisan politics, she replied, “Listen, I’ve been blown up! I think my worst day at the office is behind me.” Rep. Duckworth traces her family’s legacy of military service back to the Revolutionary War. A career in service seemed to be her calling, but she could not have predicted that her greatest service would be in politics, not combat.
Many of my academic and career choices have also been guided by family legacy. My father, Patrick Sweeney, also was a McCain Fellow, something I learned only recently. His dedication to women’s health policy and advocacy led me to practice medicine and has had a tremendous positive influence on countless women. While I never envisioned being involved in politics, advocacy presented me with an opportunity to improve women’s health in Rhode Island and beyond. Like Rep. Duckworth, I will embrace the opportunity with persistence and, hopefully, a sense of humor.
E. Christine Brousseau, MD, is an ob-gyn in Providence, RI and serves as Vice Chair for ACOG’s Rhode Island Section.