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Residents & Fellows Corner | May/June '19

A Resident’s Perspective on Advocacy

Thoughts from the 2019 AAO Mid-Year Forum.

I recently had the privilege of attending the 2019 AAO Mid-Year Forum, which is a yearly meeting that focuses on advocacy in ophthalmology. I was sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus to attend as a participant of the Advocacy Ambassador Program, which aims to educate residents and fellows on the importance of advocating for their profession. This was the first Mid-Year Forum I’ve attended and the first meeting of its type I’ve been involved with. The event included more than 400 ophthalmologists and more than 170 residents and fellows.

WHY ADVOCATE?

As residents, it’s easy to develop a myopic view of our profession during training and to focus only on the diagnosis and treatment of our patients. Advocacy allows us to engage with other members of society—namely legislators—and to serve as a voice for our patients and profession. Advocacy also helps ensure access to care for our patients and continued advances in our profession through research funding. Plus, it’s fun to step away from the hustle and bustle of residency to connect with others in the field and to see the bigger picture of what it means to care for patients.

CONGRESSIONAL MEETINGS AT AAO MID-YEAR FORUM

The issues emphasized at the 2019 AAO Mid-Year Forum included:

  • Decreasing the burden of prior authorizations;
  • Limiting the need for step therapy to cover necessary treatment options;
  • Addressing drug shortages (why is it so hard to find fluorescein strips?!); and
  • Securing continued research funding for ophthalmology.

Even with my relatively limited clinical experience, I had personal stories related to each of these issues that I could share at this meeting. The first day of the Mid-Year Forum consisted of congressional meetings on Capitol Hill to discuss the aforementioned issues. I was impressed by how organized these meetings were—we were provided talking points and leave-behind materials for each congressperson. Depending on the given year, attendees meet directly with their congressperson or their congressional staff. My meetings were shared with several other Missouri physicians and congressional staff. The staff members were receptive to our concerns and confirmed that similar issues were being echoed by physicians in other medical subspecialties, particularly those involving burdensome prior authorizations and drug shortages.

The second day of the meeting consisted of a LEAP Forward session for advocacy ambassadors, which included interactive panel presentations on leadership, engagement, advocacy, and practice management. All of these are very helpful topics for individuals early in their careers.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Besides attending the AAO Mid-Year Forum, a good starting point for those interested in advocacy is to get involved in your state’s ophthalmology society (bonus: resident membership is usually free). You can find information on your state society at secure.aao.org/aao/rosters/state-societies.

You can also consider making a donation to the AAO OPHTHPAC fund or the Surgical Scope Fund (I know, difficult to do as a resident!). OPHTHPAC is a nonpartisan political action committee that supports ophthalmology’s interests at the federal level. The Surgical Scope Fund supports Surgery by Surgeons and fights optometric surgical initiatives at the state level. More information about OPHTHPAC and the Surgical Scope Fund can be found at aao.org/advocacy/ophthpac/overview.

HOW TO GO TO THE MID-YEAR FORUM (FOR FREE)

Several ophthalmic societies sponsor resident and fellow physicians to attend the AAO Mid-Year Forum as advocacy ambassadors, including the:

  • American Glaucoma Society;
  • American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus;
  • American Society of Retina Specialists; and
  • Women in Ophthalmology.

State societies may also provide sponsorship for this meeting (it never hurts to ask!). Additionally, winners of the AAO EyeWiki writing competition are offered all-expenses-paid trips to the Mid-Year Forum.

CONCLUSION

If you are looking for a unique meeting that allows you to engage with legislators and ophthalmic leaders on Capitol Hill, then this is the meeting for you. I hope to see you at a future AAO Mid-Year Forum!

author
Maria Stunkel, MD
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