Spend a Month in Washington DC

By James S. Eadie, MD, Mass General Hosp./Brigham and Women's Hosp; Harvard Affil EM Residency - Outgoing Resident Team Captain, ACEP 911 Legislative Network

Advocacy, like medicine, is best learned in the trenches. You can read all the books that you want about running a code, but nothing compares with the learning from actually running a code. Fortunately, during residency, there are senior residents and attendings to assist in executing the orders for epinephrine, atropine, 360J...All clear...Shock. In Washington, DC, there is similar support staff for residents interested in learning health policy.

A month in our nation's capital is an incredible experience. The policy and politics that create our national healthcare system are complicated and overwhelming, but after being on the front lines in DC, the process is demystified. If you have ever wondered how healthcare policy is made, or have wanted to become a leader in patient advocacy, then spend time during residency in Washington, DC. There are many opportunities for residents to be involved.

The ACEP Healthcare Policy Fellowship is designed for residents to spend two to four weeks working in the ACEP Washington, DC office on healthcare policy issues facing emergency medicine. The DC staff will integrate you into the office and help cultivate your areas of interest. Past residents have helped write legislation, attended congressional committee meetings, lobbied Congress on behalf of emergency medicine residents, and met with key regulatory agencies. The opportunities are plentiful and can be arranged around a busy resident schedule. Contact Lupe Gonzalez, lgonzalez@acep.org for further information.

Volunteering for your elected officials is another opportunity. Every Congressman and Senator has both local and Washington, DC offices that are enthusiastic to host a physician. Elected officials depend on volunteers and appreciate the insight local constituents bring. The relationships that are built can last decades. Physicians who have volunteered report that their representatives continue to look to them for advice on policy issues facing emergency medicine, or for help in crafting healthcare legislation. These relationships allow physicians to advocate for patients nationally while providing the best care locally at the bedside.

If you are interested in pursuing healthcare policy as a career, consider a one or two year long Washington, DC fellowship. The White House Fellows program and the Robert Woods Johnson (RWJ) Health Policy Fellowships Program are both highly regarded and have prominent national leaders as alumni.

White House Fellows spend a year working in prominent positions in the executive branch learning from senior officials. RWJ Health Scholars work on Capital Hill helping to develop healthcare legislation and policy for prominent Senators or Representatives. Both fellowships provide unparalleled opportunities to work in the trenches, and to learn from national healthcare policy leaders.

Washington DC offers tremendous possibilities for residents to learn and to be involved in the creation of healthcare policy. Take the opportunity as a resident to expand your horizons, go to DC, and become a leader. The healthcare system will need a few shocks in the years to come. There is no better person to provide the 360 joules then an emergency medicine physician.

Published in August/September 2004 EM Resident.

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