This past February, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the ASA office in Washington, D.C. as their 2017 Resident Scholar for a month-long program focused on policy and advocacy.
Leaving the comfort of my scrubs and the familiarity of walking the halls of the OR, I put on a suit and tie and walked the halls of the Capitol. Meeting legislators, attending hearings, and learning how to better advocate for our specialty was an eye-opening experience. The most important lesson I learned was the indispensable role that political advocacy plays in protecting our specialty and our patients.
I first want to thank our Department Chair Richard Applegate, MD, and our Program Director Charandip Sandhu, MD. I also want to thank Gabriel Sarah, MD, and Jeffrey Poage, MD, of the California Society of Anesthesiologists, for their ongoing mentorship and encouragement in this arena. The ASA staff was exceptionally generous with their time and knowledge during the month, and made me feel like a valued member of their team.
As you might imagine, it was an interesting time to be in our nation’s Capitol. A new Congress in session, a new President in the White House, and Representatives from both sides of the aisle attempting to negotiate an uncertain political environment.
On the advocacy front, our most pressing issue in recent years, the Safe VA Care Initiative, was recently brought to a successful conclusion by the hard work and diligence of our membership and the ASA, ensuring that Veterans continue to receive the high-quality care that they have earned through their service to our country. The ASA continues to fight for patient safety, scope-of-practice, licensing of Anesthesiologist Assistants, the Affordable Care Act repeal/replace, and curtailing the opioid abuse epidemic.
I learned a surprising amount in what seemed like a very short four weeks. Chief Advocacy Officer Manny Bonilla, and the Director of Congressional and Political Affairs Nora Matus, were excellent mentors and generously shared their many years of expertise in effectively engaging lawmakers.
Director of State Affairs Jason Hansen and his team provided the opportunities for a visit to the Case Western Reserve Anesthesia Assistant Program, and participation in strategy sessions with leadership from state component societies.
Director of Payment and Practice Management Sharon Merrick shared her extensive knowledge of billing and coding, including an in-depth look at the CPT and RUC processes. Director of Quality and Regulatory Affairs (QRA) Matt Popovich was extremely generous in editing a one-page "MACRA for Residents" paper, and for including me in the QRA division meetings.
Senior Governmental and Political Outreach Manager Amanda Ott continues to seek novel ways for engaging our younger members, including the Resident Scholar take-over of the ASA Instagram account. Senior Health Policy Analyst Nick Halzack, provided his expertise in data analytics for an upcoming poster presentation on resident advocacy engagement that we are co-authoring.
Meeting directly with lawmakers and attending committee meetings on the Hill was a special part of the program. The many breakfasts, dinners, and gala events were an opportunity to meet face-to-face with our elected representatives to address relevant health care issues, and to further strengthen key congressional relationships.
One of the most rewarding meetings I attended was with the GOP Doctor’s Caucus. At this event, I spoke with Phil Roe, MD, (R-TN-1), Chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who shared his story on transitioning from his OBGYN practice to serving in Congress. Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA-6), from my home district in California, generously took time out of her busy schedule to meet and discuss health care issues affecting the people of Sacramento and the surrounding area.
I also met with ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA-1), to discuss the future of the ACA. Watching Keith Berge, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, testify during a hearing regarding Opioid Diversion within the VA, provided an example of how physicians can utilize their expertise to help improve government and better serve the public.
The Policy Research Rotation provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about policy and advocacy issues, and I recommend it to any resident with an interest in deepening their commitment to our profession through this form of service.
The month spent in Washington, D.C., imparted valuable information and experience, deepening my engagement in policy and advocacy issues. Though we count ourselves as members of a field which is often marked by quiet and diligent service, I returned to Sacramento with a strengthened belief in the importance of speaking up when it comes to matters of import to our patients and to our profession.