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Thank you for eight extraordinary years

By Dr. Alice Chen
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Today is my final day as Executive Director of Doctors for America. I awoke this morning with a sense of pride and gratitude for all we have done together and a sense of possibility and excitement for all that Doctors for America will do moving forward.

I came to Doctors for America over eight years ago as a newly trained internal medicine hospitalist wondering how I could stop the heartbreak of so many of my patients who were struggling to get care in a system that felt stacked against them.

My first act was simple: I signed a petition. It was the first time I signed anything as a doctor in the public sphere, but I saw that I was among thousands of colleagues who went first, so I followed. Then I got a phone call asking me to get more involved. I was touched that a stranger thought I could contribute even though I knew little about politics or advocacy. But I knew I had to do something, so I buzzed around as a happy worker bee, eager to help in whatever small ways I could.

I found myself increasingly captivated by the power I could see in the doctors and medical students who were coming out of the woodwork, peering out from our clinics and hospitals and realizing that our experiences from the trenches of patient care might help make things better. What we lacked in experience, we made up in bounds with heart and determination.

In the years since those early days, I have had the incredible honor and privilege of leading our movement of passionate, thoughtful, brave, and generous doctors and medical students across all 50 states who put their names, voices, and reputations on the line to speak up again and again on the issues that impact our patients’ lives. While I have had plenty of fears, frustrations, and self-doubt as a leader, it is this community that has always been there to buoy my spirits and keep me going.  

We have accomplished so much together. Today, over 20 million people have health care who didn’t before. Gun violence prevention is no longer a taboo subject and is seen by many as an issue of public health. Doctors for America members have become leaders in communities and nationally. Medical students just entering the profession now know that advocacy is part of our responsibility and our role as physicians. And millions of people see doctors standing up for them and feel like they matter.

Yet there is still so much to do. Even as I write, a group of Senators are working hard to find ways to repeal major provisions of the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid funding, throwing the care of millions into jeopardy. Women’s health is coming under attack. Congress is considering proposals that would make it easier for gun violence to happen. Immigrants and people of color - doctors and patients alike - are facing discrimination and violence. The Administration is looking to re-energize the war on drugs instead of recognizing substance use disorders as a chronic disease to be treated with compassion and evidence-based care.  Vulnerable communities worry about how they can afford healthy food and how they will care for their families if they lose their jobs or get sick.

America needs us to stand firm for the kind of country our patients deserve. America needs us to lead the way, to remind us of what matters, to demand that our leaders put patients over politics every time. I hand over the reins of Doctors for America today to our board, national and state leaders, and to all of you knowing that America needs your ideas, creativity, energy, and determination in the fights at hand and the fights ahead.

I believe even more today than ever before in the power of Doctors for America. I believe in our power to shape the world around us, especially in difficult times. How we use that power depends on you. I ask you in moments of darkness to choose light. Speak up for your patients. Reach out to support one another and recruit people to our movement. Step up as often and in as many ways as you can, and together we will build a better world.

In closing, I want to say thank you to my husband Vivek for his love and leadership and for dreaming up the idea of Doctors for America in the first place that has so enriched my life and the lives of so many others. Thank you to Milan de Vries and Nikhil Wagle for their audacity in co-founding our movement. Thank you to Doctors for America leaders and staff past and present especially our outgoing board chair Mona Mangat, our incoming board chair Scott Poppen, and our communications director Brannon Lazo. Thank you to our funders and donors, to our partner organizations, to elected officials and public servants who have stood with us, and to my family and friends who have supported and encouraged me on this journey.  

Most of all, I want to thank you for your faith in me as a leader, for all you have taught me, and for every action you take to stand up for what is right. I may be signing off as Executive Director today, but I look forward to marching alongside you in the days and years ahead to safeguard the health and wellbeing of everyone in the country we love.

Yours always,

Alice

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