Advocacy | First-timer FIT Experience at ACC's 2018 Legislative Conference

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We first heard of the ACC Advocacy Group after receiving an email concerning a potential travel grant for ACC's 2018 Legislative Conference. We had not heard of this conference before, but were interested in the potential get more involved with the ACC.

The months leading up to the conference were filled with anticipation as we booked travel and accommodations, listened to webinars, and attempted to understand the role of the conference. For the past 28 years, the ACC has held the Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, as a forum to prepare and advocate the concerns of cardiologists directly to congress.

However, despite the preparation, there was still this daunting feeling of not knowing what to expect. What is advocacy? What is the Fellow in Training (FIT) role when meeting with members of government? How could we make an impact as FITs?

Arriving to DC a day early was fun, and we managed to enjoy the sites and rich history of this city before the conference. The next morning, we were scheduled to meet other fellows at the hotel lobby, easily recognizing each other by our bright yellow "FIT" emblems.

Immediately, we became well acquainted with other fellows, coming from all over the U.S. and representing their respective state chapters. We exchanged phone numbers, emails and even started a large "WhatsApp" group, which grew as we welcomed others through a sense of camaraderie.

Our group eventually amassed to 34 FITs, which acted as a network to spread photos, tweets, insights and experiences throughout the conference.

Each day was filled with organized lectures in preparation for our visit to Capitol Hill and to deliver a unified message to our respective state representatives.

During preparation on Sunday and Monday, topics like reimbursement, payment models, pathway to legislation and story-telling were extensively discussed. We became a team with a singular focus and well-prepared to advocate.

When it came time to meet our state representatives, we saw that as fellows, we were uniquely able to provide first-hand insight into current happenings in health care and education. When we did not get to meet the legislators, state aides listened eagerly to our concerns.

We acted as educators regarding important concepts in health care such as prior authorizations, electronic medical record interoperability and the need for additional National Institutes of Health research funding for congenital heart disease and South Asian cardiovascular disease.

Our personal stories made a strong impact and we left the room feeling that we, as FITs, made a difference.

We came here with uncertain expectations of our experience as first-time FIT participants. We left feeling accomplished, valued and with a stronger understanding of the importance of health care advocacy in cardiology.

Without a doubt, this conference was a stepping stone to a career in advocacy and an opportunity to make new friendships and connect with mentors.

Indeed, we strongly recommend the experience and look forward to attending the next ACC Legislative Conference.

This article was authored by Kathir Balakumaran, MD, Fellow in Training (FIT) at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT, and Frantony Mercado Cabrera, MD, FIT at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, PR.