Taking action

How to advocate for the osteopathic medical profession

Here’s why I find advocacy so rewarding—and here’s an overview of the tools and programs that have supported me in advocating for my profession and my patients.

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.

As an osteopathic medical student, I wanted to make a connection between two passions: medicine and political affairs. I had the privilege of interning on Capitol Hill in high school and college, and knew I wanted to continue being involved as I pursued a career in medicine. Through the strong relationship between the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) and the AOA, I found opportunities to learn about pertinent legislative issues and advocate for my profession and, at the time, my future patients. It was a great first step to what has now become a fulfilling part of my career.

If you have ever found yourself wondering how you can be a better advocate for our profession and your patients, look no further. In this new column, our goal is to highlight the importance of advocacy and how you can be involved at any stage in your career. My experience serves as only one example; there are several ways for students, postdoctoral trainees, new physicians, mid-career physicians and retired physicians to advocate for the profession and patients.

Dr. Cates (right) with Congressman Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) in 2019 at a health advocacy panel at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Osteopathic Advocacy Network

The AOA’s Osteopathic Advocacy Network (OAN) is an online resource that allows you to customize your involvement, from signing up for newsletters to stay more informed to active engagement with your congressional representatives.

For instance, right now there are several advocacy campaigns listed on the site that directly impact our profession. It takes just a few minutes of your time to browse the active legislative issues and send a template email to your members of Congress asking for their action on that item. This is in addition to messages you may receive asking for your online engagement on legislative issues in your states. The OAN will also alert you of new legislative issues and information about how to meet with and build a relationship with your representative.

Through efforts made by the AOA public policy staff and osteopathic students and physicians via the OAN, the osteopathic medical profession had numerous advocacy wins in 2021. They include: prevention of substantial cuts to Medicare payment rates, expansion of telehealth coverage, defeating scope of practice expansion for non-physician clinicians in six states, promotion of physician wellness and related mental health legislation, and obtaining additional funding for graduate medical education.

These advocacy wins, and the ones from the years prior to 2021, directly affect many of us. Early on in the current global pandemic, the AOA public policy staff advocated for greater access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers at a time when it was most needed. As an emergency physician, I recall the days of reusing N-95 respirators and running out of plastic protective gowns.

The AOA stepped in to seek out federal aid for hospitals and independent offices to have appropriate PPE as the supply chain was disrupted. Though we are in a much better place now, this was a critical move to ensure the safety of our physicians and patients as we navigated through the unknown.

Dr. Cates (right) with Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) during DO Day 2018. At the time, Scalise was serving as House Majority Whip.

Advocacy during the pandemic

The pandemic has not only altered the way we practice medicine, but in the realm of advocacy, it has altered how we meet with our legislators and discuss pertinent issues.

Historically, osteopathic students and physicians gathered in Washington, DC, annually to meet with their representatives during a huge public policy event, the AOA’s DO Day: Distinctive in Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership. A swarm of white coats would descend upon the Capitol, and hundreds of meetings would take place aimed at imparting knowledge of the osteopathic profession and issues directly impacting us and our patients.

Things have been a little different in recent years with the ongoing pandemic, but no less impactful. We were able to meet with our representatives virtually last year, and that played a huge role in the legislative wins mentioned previously.

This year, we are hopeful for in-person legislative meetings. They will be combined with programming designed to help osteopathic students and physicians develop leadership and advocacy skills and provide updates on federal and state affairs.

You can register for DO Day 2022, April 23-27, here. If you have never met with your legislators, or simply wish to take a deeper look into advocacy and conducting these meetings, check out this advocacy tool kit.

I am hopeful that this column will leave you inspired. Inspired to be vocal about issues that will ultimately affect your practice and your patients. Inspired to recognize the AOA as your home for professional advocacy and to use its available resources to take action. Inspired to attend DO Day on Capitol Hill and be a part of congressional meetings.  

For me, as a new physician in practice who has maintained interest in advocacy all these years, it was certainly worth the investment.

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