Essentially, advocacy is the practice of publicly supporting or recommending policies to support a particular cause. Being invited to Washington DC by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) to listen to and contribute to various policies that affect family and children’s health ranging from food, vaccination, technology and other important themes was one the most engaging experiences of my program so far.
I had an amazing time during the conference. I got to learn a lot and got exposed to what advocacy is about I got to share my experiences and interactions with patients as well as my professional expertise and opinions with people in the Senate and the House. As a pediatrician-in-training, advocacy is something that I am actively involved in as a natural by-product of the rigors of my everyday work experience.
Still, it was vital for me to deepen my understanding of advocacy and learn about the policies that the AAP was interested in and how they affected children and families. The different sessions on changes in policies involving children’s coverage and access to care this year, vaccination advocacy messaging and how to tell a compelling advocacy story based on our clinical expertise and interaction with children and their families in our various clinical practice.
Additionally, I met fellow pediatricians at different career levels – ranging from trainees to mid-level and retired – interacted with them to learn about their own experiences and the ways they have been involved in advocacy and have been able to influence policies to help improve the health and lifestyle of children and their families. It was inspiring.
The major thematic thread that tied it all together was the emphasis on the strength of our personal stories and unique perspectives as individuals and professionals. Being a Nigerian doctor who is currently residing in the US, these sessions were an opportunity for personal reflection and a gateway to exploring how my unique experiences can help me become a better advocate.
The highlight of the workshop was our visit to Capitol Hill to have meetings with various legislative aides to talk about the Kid’s Online Safety Act and the Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act. It was an eye-opening experience where we got to share personal stories and expertise on providing protection for children and teenagers on social media and online communities.
One observation that came as a surprise to me was how polarizing some of the issues discussed were. Naturally, with issues that are as sensitive as these, there is a tendency to have multiple opinions and views about what directions to take in finding a solution. Ultimately, I appreciated the fact that these subjects were addressed and not ignored at least for the sake of open dialogue.
Conclusively, I believe I went home realizing that advocacy is a marathon and not a sprint. It would be naive to think that all the demons have been laid to rest by just one event. However, I believe that constant opportunities for conversations like this conference as well as the continual emphasis on the important roles that we can play as individuals in the advancement of these causes will go a long way to make the work progressively easier.