Using your voice

3 things to try when you have advocacy burnout

Jason Jackson, DO, shares ideas on how to reignite one’s passion for advocacy.


If one looks at any newspaper, cable news show or social media platform, one quickly sees that the world is filled with opposing ideas vying for a place of prominence in our collective minds. From global conflicts to a highly contentious U.S. election, there seems to be near-continuous forces working to pull members of the country and the world apart.

While I have no intentions on using this space to regale you all on my views or to make the slightest suggestion that I may speak for the AOA, I would like to start a discussion on the importance of advocacy in such an environment—and yes, I realize that I may be using the term “discussion” loosely as you are more of a captive audience than an active participant, so I beg you a moment of indulgence.

As physician and physician-in-training advocates, we seek to use our voice outside of the hospital or clinic to influence changes that will improve not only the lives of those we care for but also our profession. Just what that means can be different for each of us, and that is what makes advocacy such a rich and diverse field.

However, advocacy can also be overwhelming, especially now, as it seems that nearly every corner of health care is currently under attack. From navigating the post-COVID Medicaid “unwinding” to the ever-present threat of further cuts to the Medicare schedule, from lack of access to restrictions on the type of care we can provide or even discuss with our patients, it may feel at times that the largest component of practicing medicine is learning how to overcome the barriers put in our path.

It is during times like these that our role as physician-advocates becomes more important as we continue to press for the best resources to maintain the vitality of our patients and our profession. But how do we do this in a time as fractured as now, and why do we want to?

I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when these questions entered my own mind during my journey as a physician-advocate. What I try to tell myself, and what I tell my friends and colleagues who are either new to advocacy or finding themselves burned out by it, is that as important as the work we do is, it is equally important to advocate for yourself. Sometimes that is the hardest task to take on.

If you are experiencing advocacy burnout or struggling to find motivation, here are three suggestions that might help you reinvigorate your passion for advocacy.

Reconnect with your “why”

Whether it was a particularly motivational speaker, an impactful mentor or a memorable project, we can all remember the moment or moments when we realized that we had a fire inside us for advocacy work. Even if you are not currently focused on the same issue that brought you onto this path, taking the time to reconnect with that moment and remembering why that person/talk/project spoke to you can help to recenter you on your current task.

This is not an attempt to take what drove you at that time and apply it directly to your current situation, but rather a moment to reflect on where you started and how far you’ve come.

Don’t forget to unplug

Technology is a wonderful thing—most of the time. If you are like me, you have an account on nearly every social media platform, with alerts set up that ping or vibrate in your pocket 24 hours a day. Couple that with nonstop, easy-access news platforms, and it is possible to never miss a headline or response to said headline.

While there are advantages to this incredible access to connection and information, there are also drawbacks. Sometimes, it is necessary to turn some notifications off, hit the “ignore” button on others and find peace in silence.

As advocates, we often feel that we need to be the first to respond to a new piece of news or to have all the available information; however, in the era of the media superhighway, that has become an impossible goal.

Give yourself grace and allow yourself to take personal breaks from the continuous newsfeed and its associated commentary. It will give your mind time to rest, and it can also provide you with the time to refocus your efforts based on a re-evaluation of your values and priorities. When you come back, you’ll likely feel revitalized.

Focus on what brings us together

I saved this one for last because I think it can have the greatest impact in reinvigorating one’s love for advocacy. In April, osteopathic physicians will gather in Washington, D.C., to celebrate our annual DO Day. This event, held in conjunction with National Osteopathic Medicine (NOM) week, has grown from a single day of meetings into nearly a week of virtual and in-person events. It is a time for osteopathic physicians and medical students to not only continue to build our reserve and dedication to the osteopathic profession and our patients, but also to share that with our representatives on Capitol Hill.

As someone who has attended DO Day several times, I can share that the energy in the room reflects a deep sense of camaraderie and collegiality as we all share our love for our calling in medicine. For this week in April, DOs and osteopathic medical students from all walks of life will be together not only to discuss our disagreements, but also to come together as a singular voice to raise up both the osteopathic medical field and the patients for whom we care.

I know not everyone reading this is able to come to Washington, D.C., for this celebration, but that should not keep you from finding that sense of commonality among your peers and colleagues locally and more broadly as you expand your network. By learning to look for those things we share rather than differences, we may find that our support system in the realm of advocacy is much broader and more diverse than we could have ever imagined.

So, I encourage you all to take this month and the months ahead to make time to refocus, unplug when needed and reconnect with your osteopathic family as we all move forward together in health.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Advocacy should be a medical education core competency

Chasing your dreams: Focusing on the journey rather than the end goal

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