“Hope is not a strategy…We will never, ever, ever stop advocating for kids!” said Mark Del Monte, senior vice president of advocacy and external affairs at AAP.
Those words energized the over 220 pediatricians who participated in the April 2017 AAP Legislative Conference in D.C and kicked off an intense, invigorating three days of nonstop advocacy training and application.
Now in its 26th year, with nearly double the prior year’s attendance plus a sizeable waiting list, this conference combined informative briefings, a Congressional staff simulation, skill-building workshops and culminated in actual meetings with attendees’ members of Congress or staff, followed by a group debriefing session.
As a first time #AAPLegCon attendee, who had also just participated in my first Minnesota Peds’ Day at the Capitol in March, I couldn’t wait to combine what I had learned about state-level advocacy with national work. Both events focused on protecting access to care for children, with Leg Con aiming for reauthorization of CHIP and ensuring that Medicaid remained strong, uncut and uncapped. At the state level, we also prepared to discuss access to mental health services and health equity.
The power of stories emerged as a powerful way to inform, illustrate and humanize the issues for legislators at both levels, who we learned do not necessarily have expertise in the wide array of issues they vote on, particularly healthcare. In St. Paul, we shared stories of patients who had been helped by school-based mental health professionals as well as the challenges faced when our patients needed higher levels of psychiatric care. It was illuminating to hear our state senator express gratitude for educating him on how small investments early on can improve mental health morbidity and mortality and save state resources in the long run.
AAP Leg Con speakers reminded us that pediatricians are a powerful, trusted voice. We are the experts when it comes to children’s health and we should never underestimate ourselves. We were told that as physicians who handle screaming toddlers and dodge bodily fluids daily (things that terrify anyone else), we are uniquely suited to handle whatever legislators and staff throw at us. Nothing will be as hard as what we already deal with every day as pediatricians! The message was clear: You got this. Now go do it.
Up until last fall, I hadn’t been particularly politically active, so this was new and somewhat intimidating territory for me. One of the best parts of Leg Con was connecting with other pediatricians who felt the same way, but had overcome those feelings and even introverted natures to speak up because of the unprecedented threat posed to children’s health, nutrition and other safety net programs. Everyone there was ready to advocate for kids at the next level. One of our speakers even mentioned how pleasantly surprised she was to have a roomful of alert listeners at 7:30 a.m.
The intensity of the conference schedule as well as the high stakes involved helped us bond with each other. I was thrilled to see so many new #tweetiatricians hatched at Leg Con who are now plugged into a growing, dynamic advocacy and information network. Many of us have carried our Leg Con experience over to friendships and professional relationships, whether it’s co-writing advocacy pieces, helping to amplify key messages using Twitter, supporting and encouraging each other or even challenging each other’s chapters to create the most video testimonials to #KeepKidsCovered.
We learned from each other, advocated hard and had fun doing it. We learned that together, the voices of over 65 thousand pediatricians can be a powerful force for child health and advocacy.