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Reflections: A Year of Doctors Advocating for Patients

By Dr. Alice Chen

“If I weren’t doing advocacy, I might not still be practicing medicine.”  -- Doctors for America member

This week we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Progress Notes, a blog born out of a desire among Doctors for America’s physicians and medical students to add our voices to our national struggle around reforming our health care system.

In just one year, hundreds of thoughtful posts have been written after a hospital shift, before clinic, in between studying for exams, on a well-deserved day off.  Every weekday for a year, doctor bloggers have been sharing their words on the promise and the peril of our health care system and its effects on real people’s lives.  Why?  Every member of the team has their own unique story – a patient whose tragedy at the hands of a broken system made us lose sleep, a conviction that those of us who see what’s happening have a responsibility to alert the world to it, a realization that we cannot keep practicing medicine in an unjust system without speaking up about it.

Yesterday, Harold Pollack asked what we’ve learned in the past year of ups and downs, how our views have changed.  It’s a great question.  For me, as a physician and an organizer of Doctors for America’s 15,000 doctors and medical students, my views and convictions about advocacy, health policy, politics, and my own profession have been challenged and shaped every day by my interactions with the thoughtful members of this organization and all our partners in the struggle for the health care system we know we can achieve together.

In this year, I become ever more convinced of the power and the responsibility of doctors in making our voices heard.   I have discovered that while the road to meaningful change is far more complex and difficult that I realized, there is nearly unlimited power in believing in what we can accomplish if we put our necks out there and stand up for our convictions.   I have realized how important advocacy is to the survival of our profession, its idealism, and the idealism of each of us.   I have appreciated the difference it makes for me to be able to look distressed patients in the eye and tell them that I am working with thousands of doctors to remove the barriers between them and the care they need.

I have also come to understand even more deeply that one of our greatest challenges is overcoming our own fears and feelings of inadequacy to embrace the power and impact we can have.   Every action – signing onto petitions, organizing rallies, writing letters to the editor, meeting with members of Congress, giving community lectures, sharing our experiences on this blog – all of it makes us a part of the greater narrative of health reform in a historic time for our country.  In the face of all the frustrations that come with fighting for transformational change, I keep going because I see the Doctors for America community continuing to dig deep and find sparks of inspiration and determination to keep working. 

I know that we have much more to learn.  How can we be more effective advocates?  How can we rally even more colleagues to the cause?  How can we break through the political noise to focus the conversation on what really matters – our patients, alleviating their suffering, and safeguarding their health?  For me, how can I be a better leader and help busy doctors and medical students create the change they seek while juggling responsibilities to patients, trainees, family, and ourselves?

I feel incredibly fortunate to have such amazing fellow travelers on this whirlwind journey both on Progress Notes and in the broader Doctors for America community.  Today, I celebrate all of our bloggers and guest bloggers on a year of choosing to write the narrative and be the narrative.  And I celebrate all our readers for joining us for the journey.  Each of you gives me hope and makes me more determined than ever to pour heart and soul into our work together.  Thank you all!

(Tomorrow, we will visit some of the successes that Doctors for America members have won over the past year!)

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