The ACR Rutherford Fellowship Experience
This past month, I had the opportunity to participate in the American College of Radiology’s J.T. Rutherford-Lavanty Fellowship in Governmental Relations in Washington, DC, during a crucial time in our nation’s history, at the epitome of health care reform.
The weeklong fellowship, named in honor of the first ACR lobbyists, J.T. Rutherford, and Donald F. Lavanty, introduces radiology residents and fellows to government relations activities at the federal level, which are vital to understanding, developing, and promoting policies that pertain to diagnostic and interventional imaging procedures. The fellowship also provides education on legislative health policy, specific to radiology, and serves to familiarize young physicians with the regulatory processes in which the ACR contributes.
As you can imagine, with the American Health Care Act (AHCA) primed for a vote in the House last month, my week in Washington, DC was very busy. I lobbied in congressional offices in both the House and the Senate with ACR representatives. I also attended numerous breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions held for specific members of Congress, including a small private dinner with Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). While most of these events were fundraising-specific, these meetings nonetheless provided an excellent opportunity to see the step-wise process involved in passing key legislation. Meeting influential congressional leaders on a one-on-one basis also provided me an opportunity to speak openly about specific legislation pertinent to radiology, such as protecting free preventive screening in the recently proposed health care bill (i.e. mammography, low dose lung cancer screening, and CT colonography) with no cost-sharing components that might prove to be a cost-barrier to patients.
Although the health policy arena is constantly changing with each new government administration, my experience as a J.T. Rutherford-Lavanty fellow has made it clear that the ACR is constantly working on behalf of its members to promote the work that radiologists do for patients every day. It is important that as radiologists, as well as residents and fellows in training, we learn how these policies affect us. It is just as important that we engage with the ACR to show how the work radiologists do matters to ensure that patients have adequate access to imaging to improve their care.
Throughout the fellowship, I had the chance to meet with many of the tireless government relations staff working behind the scenes. They sift through many pages of governmental regulation to understand how radiologists might be affected by changes, and then correspond with congressional representatives on behalf of radiologists. The majority of these efforts go largely unnoticed by most radiologists. During this time I realized the vital role that radiology advocacy plays in securing our future. Amongst the daily pressures of studying, taking call, and dealing with the day-to-day challenges of residency or fellowship, it is easy to lose sight of what lies beyond training. However, it is imperative that we acknowledge the importance of government relations and advocacy in order to establish the skills necessary to effectively advocate for our field in the future. This will only make us valuable assets to our future institutions and practices.
It is fundamental that each of us contributes in some fashion, whether monetarily or in terms of donating time, as advocacy is essential in solidifying our stance in Washington, D.C., and will allow us to ensure our profession will thrive for years to come. One way to get involved is by donating to RADPAC, the ACR’s bipartisan political action committee. During my fellowship, I witnessed personally how these donations fund many efforts that make all the difference. Other great ways to get involved are through participating in Capitol Hill Day during the annual ACR meeting in May, getting involved in the Radiology Advocacy Network, and of course, I encourage you to apply for the Rutherford Fellowship.
By Kimberly Weatherspoon, MD, chief resident at Baystate Medical Center