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Lobbying in Washington: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Dr. Judith M. KimelmanJudith M. Kimelman, MD, immediate past Washington Section chair

“I don’t have time to get involved.” “Doctors are not supposed to be political.” “I don’t know enough to talk to my legislator.” These are some of the many reasons physicians are reticent to get involved in political advocacy. But, as we tell the participants of the Washington State Legislative Day, if you don't get involved, politicians will have no trouble getting involved in how you practice medicine.

The Washington Section started its Legislative Day five years ago to teach residents about advocacy and to give them the experience of lobbying about issues important to their patients and their ability to practice medicine. We wanted the next generation of physicians to feel it was their responsibility to be involved. We were met with great enthusiasm from residency directors because advocacy training had just become a CREOG objective. But even better, the residents loved the experience. It only took the first year to realize it could be valuable to all ob-gyns, regardless of where they were in their careers.

The Legislative Day takes place at the Capitol in Olympia, which is a fun field trip for everyone. The day begins with attendees learning the basics of the legislative process from the Washington State Medical Association’s legislative team. Then, we have a speaker talk about the importance of advocacy, and our Junior Fellows inform the group about the issues on which we will be lobbying. Finally, we spend time practicing our five-minute spiels before meeting with legislators.

Have we been successful lobbyists? It is hard to measure success. Some of the bills we have lobbied for have passed, though many have not. More importantly, residents and practicing physicians in our community are more involved. When an issue arises, ob-gyns no longer passively wait to see what will happen. Instead, they try to figure out what they can do to advocate for change. Legislators recognize us when we come to talk to them year after year, and lobbyists from groups we care about (eg, Planned Parenthood, March of Dimes, and Legal Voice) contact us for our support or to testify at the Capitol.

The Washington Section had a lot of fun this year developing a humorous informational video, “Lobbying: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The seven-minute video was filmed with State Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) playing himself and putting up with Judith A. Jacobsen, MD, Washington Section chair, and me bumbling through a meeting with cell phones going off and a long drawn-out patient example using mostly medical terminology. The video got lots of laughs at our Legislative Day, at the Congressional Leadership Conference, and from many lobbyists in our state. Anyone is welcome to use it, or create your own!