I left a busy pediatric practice in 2001 to teach, to refuel, and to write about a health care system I viewed as growing increasingly dysfunctional. I felt compelled to write about the disconnect between what doctors are trained to do and what we are paid to do by short-sighted insurers, and about how health care is shaped more by strategic business decisions and pharmaceutical marketing than it is by medical science. But sitting at my laptop, typing away at a book chapter or a Huffington Post blog, I felt quite alone.
As I think back on the colleagues I have admired the most over the course of my pediatric career, what they all seemed to have in common was a solitary – almost private – idealism. When I finished my medical training back in the 1980’s, doctors were largely an apolitical lot, as if it was an unwritten code. The most dedicated physicians practiced as conscientiously as they could, always putting the patient’s interest first. The more dedicated they were, the less likely they were to talk about it. For my generation of doctors, political activism simply didn’t fit into our notion of who we were. The heroics of medicine passed quietly, in the day-to-day decisions of patient care.
The past decade has made that noble, solitary effort insufficient. Health care-for-profit and the growing political power of special interests has overpowered our ability to protect our patients’ interests one encounter at a time. Doctors who are passionate about providing affordable, quality health care for their patients feel isolated and overwhelmed – and too often defeated – if they are fighting a solitary fight.
One day, just about a year ago, I shared emails back and forth with a doctor from Virginia who edited the Doctors for America blog. He reposted a blog I had written about proposed Medicaid cuts, and that in turn sent me to the DFA website. What I found there were 15,000 doctors and medical students all dedicated to the notion of quality health care for all. Physicians were writing and speaking about and supporting the very same issues about which I cared so deeply. I found stories about rallies and petitions. I saw a picture of young doctors standing with President Obama at the White House. Grassroots physician activism was showing itself to be a powerful new tool for patient advocacy and health care reform. And there seemed to be as many forms of physician activism as there were members.
So I joined DFA’s blogging team, and last spring attended the first annual DFA conference in D.C. A few months ago I took on the role of editor of the DFA newsletter. My work for DFA has been meaningful and empowering because I can see the results. Our voices are being heard above all the rhetoric because what doctors have to say has always mattered, and what we say in unison cannot be ignored. Fighting for our patients should not feel like a lonely endeavor. It no longer does to me.