New class of advocates takes IR message to Capitol Hill
On May 15–16, 12 SIR members visited Capitol Hill for SIR’s fifth annual Grassroots Leadership Program. Jeremy D. Collins, MD; Waleska M. Pabon-Ramos, MD, MPH, FSIR; Kristi Bogan, MD; Jesse Chen, MD; Charles (Chuck) Martin, MD; Teodora Bochnakova, MD; Diane Szaflarski, DO; Mircea Cristescu, MD, MBA; Enn A. Chen, MD; Elie R. Balesh, MD; Casey Branach, MD; and Tina Sankhla, MD, met with congressional staff and members of Congress from their home districts to raise awareness of IR and to discuss the SIR-backed H.R. 1167, Enhancing Opportunities for Medical Doctors Act, sponsored by Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah. They also discussed the May 2 Hill briefing that introduced congressional staff to IR treatments. Watch the briefing on SIR’s Facebook Page.
The Grassroots Leadership Program participants also attended SIRPAC-sponsored receptions for Reps. Barbara Comstock, R-Va.; Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.; Joseph Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Michael Bishop, R-Mich., to share the powerful story of interventional radiology.
Some of this year's participants share with IRQ their experience with the SIR Grassroots Leadership Program.
Kristi Bogan, MD, DABR
I never dreamed one day I would be meeting with senators and house representatives on Capitol Hill. However, during my first experience with the Hill Day at the SIR 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C., I got a “soft intro” to policymaking on the Hill and learned more about the Grassroots Leadership Program’s mission and current political issues. My first experience was a whirlwind but gave me just enough of a taste to want more.
When the opportunity came around to participate in the 2018 Grassroots Leadership Program, I jumped on it. I was much more prepared for the second trip because, as opposed to being awestruck with all of the grandeur of just being in the political arena, I could actually focus on the main issues and be an active part of the “sell.” Because let’s face it, that’s what everyone does on The Hill. Those in advocacy are salespeople trying to sell their ideas and ideals so they can be incorporated into law.
Our main mission was and still is to get a proposed bill, which was born on the House side by Rep. Mia Love, adopted into both sides of Congress. Did you know that a bill has to be supported by both the House and the Senate so that it can go to “the floor” for a vote to incorporate into law? I think I vaguely remember the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon about “I’m just a bill sitting on Capitol Hill.”
The main outcome we hope to achieve is to eventually add more IR slots to the residency pool so that more people have a chance to get a residency in IR. However, the most difficult but also most rewarding part of this process was trying to explain to young people who are either still in college or just graduated (because that is really to whom you are “selling” your idea) what IRs do and why having more of us in the world would benefit everyone. It is so exhilarating when you are sitting there chatting with these young game-changers because you realize that you are educating a part of society that can really make a difference.
I met so many wonderfully energetic and influential people and feel like my voice was heard and that it counts. I will cherish this experience all my life and I hope to continue to develop and nurture what I learned. Knowledge is power and there is power in numbers. I highly recommend this experience to anyone wanting to change the world for the better. I can now say that I have “the bug” and I have a feeling this will not be the last time Rep. Joe Kennedy and I collegially debate the woes of trying to fix the opioid crisis.
Enn Alexandria Chen, MD
The 2018 Grassroots Leadership Program was an extremely informative, fascinating and gratifying experience. Over a two-day period in Washington, D.C., I gained a global overview of the advocacy process and understanding of why advocacy is so critical as we go through this transition becoming an independent medical specialty.
As a group, we met on Capitol Hill with our elected members of Congress and key congressional staffers to engage, discuss and bring attention to policy issues that impact interventional radiology—e.g., HR 1167, which introduces a bill increasing GME-funded slots for IR residency programs. Among the highlights of this trip was having breakfast with Rep. Joe Kennedy III and discussing IR-directed pain management procedures (alternative methods involving IR that can potentially effect positive change during our nation’s opioid crisis).
I enthusiastically recommend the SIR Grassroots Leadership Program and strongly encourage IRs to get involved with advocacy efforts. This has impacted my career in that I have become an advocate—to strategically network and raise awareness and support through direct interaction with our local IRs, state legislators, the community/public and the media. We must raise our voices to be heard in our nation’s capital in order to influence and effect positive change, create opportunities, allocate resources, and create favorable public image and policy in this time of transition and change.
Jesse Chen, MD
After completing the Grassroots Leadership Program, it’s ever more apparent that IR is the youngest player at the poker table and, while we are talented at the game, the players club will be slow to deal us in.
We were on Capitol Hill talking up a common-sense, budget-neutral, nonpartisan bill that would help redistribute unused GME-funded spots. It would address the physician shortage, increase medical education in underserved areas, and indirectly help our fledgling specialty. A no-brainer, right? But even if the policymakers were happy to meet with us, there was a perceivable reticence to change.
IR isn’t the weakest voice at the table, but it is one of newest, and when the entire house floor is lined with eggshells, representatives understandably need to be aware of “stranger danger.” My frame of reference is having lobbied with the American College of Radiology on their heavily funded, highly publicized Capitol Hill Day each May and, while every staffer knows what an X-ray is, everyone in Washington believes Melania had kidney surgery.
Until IR quintuples in size, we have to continue chipping away at the wall and continue informing patients, politicians and the public about how much good IR can do. We have a whole deck of aces up our sleeves—we just have to find our voice at the table.