July 1, 2013
Volume 77, Number 7
Observations: Advocacy: One Anesthesiologist’s View
N. Martin Giesecke, M.D. Editor, ASA NEWSLETTER
One of the most important member services provided by ASA is advocacy. Most people consider advocacy to denote legislative support, and ASA accomplishes that goal on the national level. We are fortunate to have a very effective team working in our Washington, D.C. office, aptly led by Chief Advocacy Officer Manuel Bonilla. This group helps carry our message to legislators. But they are only part of the story.
You might have heard the adage that “All politics is local.” Allow me to expand on this idea a bit, as it relates to the education in advocacy of one “local” anesthesiologist – me. I had the good fortune to grow up in anesthesiology in association with many influential ASA members. The chairman of my residency training program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston was James F. Arens, M.D. Most of us Arens-Trained Anesthesiologists (ATAs) still refer to Dr. Arens as “Chief.” In my CA-3 year, Dr. Arens was ASA President. His commitment to ASA, and greater organized medicine, has certainly been influential for me from my beginnings as a resident to this very day.
My involvement in the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists (TSA) began after graduating from residency in 1989. With little previous experience in the Society, one of the incoming TSA presidents, probably Asa Lockhart, M.D., appointed me as the chair of a new committee for young physicians. I have to admit that back then, so early in my professional career, my committee chair skills left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, someone appreciated what they saw, for in 1991 the TSA named me editor of the TSA Bulletin. That latter position, especially, provided me with year after year of experience in the activities of the TSA board of directors.
Those hours spent witnessing the actions of the board introduced me to Betty P. Stephenson, M.D. She was to become ASA President 1991. Betty was a private practice anesthesiologist from Houston. She was a great proponent of political advocacy, and was one of a number of ASA leaders involved in the creation of the ASA Political Action Committee (ASAPAC). She went on to serve as president of the Texas Medical Association (TMA). Having her as a mentor for visiting legislators in Washington, D.C. in the early years of the ASA’s Legislative Conferences was a benefit of being a member of the Texas Delegation to that meeting. Several past presidents of the TSA, including current ASA President John Zerwas, M.D., learned many of their skills from accompanying Betty on her Capitol Hill visits. Those who had the opportunity are proud to have carried her handbag on those occasions.
What Dr. Stephenson helped to
start back in 1991 – the ASAPAC – has become the largest physician political action committee in the nation over the past four years. This accomplishment is a testament to the participation of ASA members just like you, who have made the ASAPAC a strong political voice in our nation’s capital. Many members of TSA were also active members of TMA. Though a member of TMA, it was difficult for me to find time to devote to its activities, other than a handful of lectures here and there at the annual TEXMED meetings. However, TMA did introduce me to “First Tuesdays.” First Tuesdays was started several years ago by the TMA Alliance. The idea was to have physicians (and their spouses) visit their legislators at the state capitol the first Tuesday of every month when the Texas Legislature was in session. I have to admit that the sight of 200 doctors and spouses, many in their white coats, was dramatic in the halls of the capitol building. It became obvious to me that TMA was an important advocate for medicine on the state level, and I was happy to participate in several of these First Tuesdays.
Still, my education in advocacy was continuing. I became a member of the ASA House of Delegates. I began to learn more about the importance of advocacy for ASA. I even attended some ASA Legislative Conferences in
Washington, D.C. And though I never was given the chance to carry Dr. Stephenson’s handbag, I soon saw the importance of carrying the message of patient safety to one’s legislators. Somewhere along the way, TSA enrolled me in the ASA’s Regional Spokesperson Training Program. This enabled me to become a more organized, prepared advocate.
ASA has stepped up to the advocacy plate yet again by creating the Lansdale Public Policy Fellowship. This program takes an anes-
thesiologist with an interest in public policy and provides that person with a year-long Washington, D.C. experience, working within the federal government. Scott Kercheville, M.D., from San Antonio, was the Lansdale Fellow from 2011-12. Cathy Scholl, M.D., from Austin, will start her Lansdale Fellowship in September 2013. Both of these anesthesiologists are ATAs, another testament to the enduring influence of Dr. Arens. This fellowship experience builds lasting relationships with the ASA’s Washington, D.C. office and with legislators and their staff members.
About four years ago in Texas, the TSA started an annual program to provide CPR training at the state capitol building. The program was the brain-child of then-State Senator Kyle Janek, M.D., an anesthesiologist. The event that catalyzed the final organization of TSA CPR Day at the Capitol was the effective resuscitation of a fellow
member of the House of Representatives by John Zerwas, M.D., also an anesthesiologist and a state representative from the Houston area. For the past four years, TSA has organized, with the help of others (notably the American Red Cross and the Seton Healthcare Family of Hospitals in Austin), this one-day event held in the capitol building in Austin. We have been fortunate to
train hundreds of legislative staff, legislators themselves and others at these events. These initiatives have been a tremendous show of advocacy by TSA.
Though I still look forward to participating as an advocate for anesthesiology with ASA and the TSA (and now TMA), one of my most important roles in advocacy is that of mentor for a new generation of anesthesiologists. It has been my pleasure to support sending one of the residents, Anna Allred, M.D., from the training program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to Washington, D.C. for the ASA Resident Public Policy Elective month. Providing the opportunity for young anesthesiologists to see the importance of involvement in government, and to learn advocacy from the experts in D.C., is a lesson that I know will be beneficial to this resident. It is also an experience she will carry throughout her career to service organized medicine and patient safety.
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