ACC Legislative Conference 2017 – A Tour de Force in Advocacy Education for Fellows in Training!

The 2017 ACC Legislative Conference featured an excellent inaugural pre-conference program for FITs and Early Career members on Sept. 10 at the Fairmont Hotel, a stone’s throw from the ACC Heart House in Washington, DC. The following is a rundown of the major highlights from the FIT and Early Career pre-conference session.

The program was kicked off by Early Career Section Chair Anthony Hilliard, MD, FACC, and FIT Section Chair Poonam Velagapudi, MD, MS. Hilliard discussed his own development and involvement with the ACC vis-à-vis advocacy initiatives. He then introduced ACC President Mary Norine Walsh, MD, FACC, who provided a bird’s eye view of the ACC’s remarkable growth from 2000 to 2016 (nearly doubling in size) with significant increases in membership among the Cardiovascular Team and international members. Further highlighting the latter group, she noted approximately 40 established international chapters worldwide, along with expansion of ACC’s educational offerings to include annual conferences in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. A key takeaway for FITs was that the average age of US cardiologists has now increased to 56 years, with much of the recent growth in the above 60 age group, emphasizing the important role of FIT and Early Career members in carrying forward the mission of the College.

Walsh was followed by Lucas Sanders, associate director of legislative affairs at the ACC, who outlined the key ACC initiatives at this year’s conference and talking points for subsequent visits by ACC members to their state representatives’ offices on Capitol Hill:

• Foster innovation and research through increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• Co-sponsor H.R. 1155/S. 1361, a bill to expand access to cardiac rehabilitation for patients by allowing physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists to supervise cardiac rehabilitation programs.

• Ease administrative burdens on clinicians through oversight of the Quality Payment Program implementation, streamlining electronic health record reporting requirements (H.R. 3120) and facilitating a smooth transition to new payment models.

This insightful review of current legislative issues was followed by a presentation from Sandeep Krishnan, MD on his experiences in ACC’s Emerging Advocates program, including the opportunity to learn about advocacy from ACC leaders, as well as engage with lawmakers at the state and national level.

Past ACC President and senior advocacy leader, Kim Allan Williams, MD, MACC, followed with some of his most memorable advocacy experiences, recalling fondly a past quote of his: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu!” In particular, Williams highlighted the importance of collaboration with other organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association, to help strengthen and promote mutually beneficial initiatives. He also expounded the important role of cardiologist advocates in ensuring that legislation – especially sweeping mandates – is in line with best evidence to ensure optimal patient outcomes.

Kelly Memphis, state government affairs associate for the ACC, presented an excellent primer on FIT involvement with chapter and state level advocacy and grassroots initiatives, such as state lobby days, letters to the editor in high-visibility publications and even testimony at state legislative meetings. Sandra Lewis, MD, FACC, co-chair of the ACC Political Action Committee (ACCPAC), then discussed the role of ACCPAC in furthering the aims of the ACC, emphasizing advocacy as the base for ACC’s mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health.

Lewis was followed by an expert panel, including Drew Carlson, MD; Letitia Weigand, PhD; and Susan Zieman, MD, who discussed established and novel NIH funding mechanisms for trainees and early career cardiologists. This was of particular interest given recent concerns over possible reductions in funding to the NIH and other governmental organizations sponsoring research, and the potential ramifications of such actions for young investigators and those considering careers in research.

The FIT and Early Career session was concluded memorably by ACC Vice President C. Michael Valentine, MD, FACC, who, along with ACC member strategy associate, Kristin West, modeled potential pitfalls when speaking with legislators on Capitol Hill. They emphasized the importance of preparedness, respect and succinct delivery of talking points to convey the issues of greatest importance. Valentine offered a simplified formula to make one’s case, predicated on letting lawmakers know “who you are, where you’re from and what your ‘ask‘ is.”

The FIT and Early Career pre-conference session for the 2017 ACC Legislative Conference was a comprehensive synopsis in advocacy education for FITs, providing an excellent foundation and segue for the following day’s events. With the education and practical tips offered by the outstanding faculty, FITs were well equipped for participation in meetings with legislators Sept. 12 on Capitol Hill. Current and future FIT and Early Career members of the College stand to benefit greatly from attendance at this event, whether they are first time attendees or have found a calling in advocacy!

This article was authored by Mohammad-Ali Jazayeri, MD, Fellow in Training (FIT) at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Hussein Abu Daya, MD, FIT at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.