Published 12/1/2010
John D. Kelly IV, MD

Advocacy: Your true calling

Get involved—for your patients and yourselves

“Act or be acted upon.” These words by Stephen R. Covey capture the essence of the need for advocacy. When we resign ourselves to the ‘status quo,’ we relinquish control of our lives, our destinies, and the welfare of our patients. We submit to those less informed or capable. When we watch from the sidelines, we forfeit responsibility and transfer power and influence into the hands of those who may act with less-than-pure intentions.

The outcomes of the elections on Nov. 2 are the result of positive action of those not happy with the status quo. Americans who were frustrated with the direction taken by the government responded with an overhaul of the House and a crippling of the Senate. Health care took center stage as the most singularly impassioned issue.

It was the advocacy efforts by members of several grassroots organizations, including the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), that helped realize the ‘culture change’ manifested in Congress. Individual Americans, one by one, decided to work for positive change. Each decided to act, rather than be acted upon.

As Helen Keller said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

We are all busy clinicians, and I am certain that the last thing we all need is more commitments. I would argue, however, that advocacy is not just an obligation, it is our calling.

When we graduated from medical school, we all pledged to provide thorough, humane, and responsible care to our patients. When we recognize that forces exist that will subvert our abilities to render the care our patients deserve, our consciences will call us to effect change. We should not allow the forces of peer pressure, inertia, finances, or political correctness to neutralize our passion for change.

I am reminded of the words of Cesar Chavez, who wrote, “If you’re outraged at conditions, then you can’t possibly be free or happy until you devote all your time to changing them and do nothing but that. The affluence in this country is our biggest trap, because you can’t change anything if you want to hold onto a good job, a good way of life, and avoid sacrifice.”

This election, I took solace in the fact that I had openly supported the candidates I thought would preserve quality health care. I had given to my political action committee, distributed materials in my office, and voted. I was especially proud of my wife, Marie, who feverishly hung up signs, distributed pamphlets, and ‘talked up’ patient-friendly candidates. I knew we were both fighting for something very precious to both of us—the right to quality health care.

Free time does not come easy to most orthopaedic surgeons. Frankly, I find it hard to stay current on important political matters. I derive great satisfaction knowing that the AAOS office of government relations is working hard to keep us informed. I am increasingly impressed by the expertise and depth of resources available through the AAOS Council on Advocacy.

My state of Pennsylvania still suffers from a very toxic malpractice culture. I am forever indebted to Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, and the efforts of Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR). Over the past several years, I have witnessed how DMLR has penetrated the consciousness of Americans and helped awaken them to the fact that medical liability reform is desperately needed to help curb healthcare expenditures.

Get in the game. It does not require a lot of time. The AAOS has already done your research. As for finances, when one considers return on investment, only modest sacrifices are necessary.

Answer the call to your conscience. Start today—make one phone call, attend one fundraiser, write one check—and you will help set things straight. The orthopaedic profession and our patients are waiting for us to act.

Take a chance. Start creating your destiny. We can change the world—one orthopaedic surgeon at a time.

John D. Kelly IV, MD, is a member of the AAOS Advocacy Resource Committee. He can be reached at John.Kelly@uphs.upenn.edu