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How I Unexpectedly Became A Powerful Voice for Women's Health
As a young physician in practice, I witnessed the power one person can have—and the impact an entire medical community can make when we speak together. I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania and work as a private-practice obstetrician–gynecologist in a community hospital near where I grew up. To paint a full picture: I even joined the practice that delivered me some 50 years ago. While my practice provided excellent clinical teaching, it offered little education on the business of medicine. In fact, I was completely unprepared for the realities of the hostile medical liability climate that dominated my early years as an obstetrician–gynecologist. Malpractice cases in my hometown soared and I was disheartened to see many of my excellent mentors and colleagues forced to alter or quit clinical practice altogether.
The ACOG Pennsylvania Section quickly mobilized in my tiny community, offering obstetricians–gynecologists like me guidance and support on ways we can use our voice to send a clear message to policy makers. Eventually, malpractice in my community gained national attention and then President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign took notice and added it to his presidential platform.
It was then that I realized the importance of advocating not only for our patients—but for our needs as physicians. I quickly became engaged in my Section’s work on the broad scope of women’s health issues being legislated at both the state and national levels. In May 2018, I had the honor of becoming an ACOG McCain Fellow, which gives obstetricians–gynecologists like me firsthand exposure to policy development and the legislative process in the federal and state governments.
During my first week on the job, a lot of progress was made on maternal health. First, there was the second annual March for Moms in Washington, D.C., where supporters marched for improved maternal care. ACOG President Dr. Lisa Hollier spoke at the march in support of initiatives like Maternal Mortality Review Committees (MMRC), which provide critical analysis into the causes of maternal mortality. That same week, The Pennsylvania governor signed into law HB 1869, which established Pennsylvania’s first MMRC under the state Department of Health. MMRCs have since received wide support across party lines—and our message that all states should be consistent on their abilities to evaluate maternal deaths and make recommendations based on expert reviews resonated both at the state and national level. It was voices like ours in the women’s health community that helped maternal health legislation pass with bipartisan support in a political climate where very few issues are considered bipartisan.
It’s revealing when I look back at the road to becoming the strong advocate I am today for women’s health and our profession. When I started my career as an obstetrician–gynecologist, I didn’t necessarily think of myself as a political force. But we must remember that our patients need us both inside the exam rooms—and outside.
My ACOG Section gave me a platform to make my voice heard and helped facilitate opportunities to meet with my representatives about women’s health issues that mattered to me. ACOG National built on those local experiences and helped me network with like-minded obstetricians–gynecologists in ways I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. During my weeks as an ACOG McCain Fellow I not only had the timely opportunity to advocate for MMRCs, but also attended briefings on sex education, sat in on the Advisory Committee Meeting on Women’s Veterans Health, and accompanied ACOG’s Government Relations team to a multitude of political events.
Something I hear often from my peers is “I don’t have time to advocate” or “I’m interested but I just don’t know where to start.” ACOG has so many easy ways for you to be involved—whether its sending out a pre-filled message or comment to your representatives or donating to the ACOG Ob-GynPAC, which is the only federal PAC dedicated to electing representatives who support our specialty. Get started and find your voice by visiting acog.org/advocacy or follow ACOG advocacy on Twitter at @acogaction.
Lynne Coslett-Charlton, MD, is a 2018 ACOG McCain Fellow and practicing gynecologist at Ob-Gyn Associates in Wilkes-Barre, PA. She shares why she’s a passionate advocate for women’s health in her guest blog post.