Advocacy involvement has become second nature for John T. Gill, MD, who assumed the chairmanship of the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC) during the AAOS Annual Meeting.
Dr. Gill’s passion for advocacy has led him to hold numerous advocacy roles within the AAOS, as well as within the American Medical Association (AMA) and on the state level through the Texas Orthopaedic Association (TOA). Members of Congress from around the country recognize him as an advocate for orthopaedic issues. He plans to use these leadership experiences and his passion for politics to engage AAOS fellows in the political process through the Orthopaedic PAC.
Born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, Dr. Gill was exposed to orthopaedics early on by his father, the late George Gill, MD, a hand specialist who trained under Sterling Bunnell, MD, during World War II. With his father’s help, the young Dr. Gill landed a summer job working in an operating room (OR), first as an orderly and later as a scrub technician.
The youngest of six children, Dr. Gill was the only one to follow his father into medicine. He credits the five summers spent working in the OR with convincing him this was the path he wanted to pursue. “I was exposed to all types of surgery, but quickly came to enjoy orthopaedics the best. I loved it, and it convinced me that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Dr. Gill attended the University of Texas (UT) for his undergraduate education, followed by medical school at UT Southwestern Medical School. After his residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and a sports medicine fellowship at Baylor University in Houston, he opened his private practice as a solo practitioner in 1988.
Dr. Gill notes his interest in advocacy began by accident. “I traveled to the state capitol in Austin for a Doctor Day and was watching a Senate committee hearing. One of the opponents to the bill made some disparaging comments about the way physicians practice medicine. I turned to a more senior physician next to me to complain about how wrong the man’s remarks were. He told me to sign in and testify myself. I did and was hooked. I knew more about practicing medicine than any of those Senators did, and it took just a few minutes to tell them my story.”
Dr. Gill traveled to Austin often and eventually to Washington, D.C., but found himself meeting with junior staff instead of the legislators. He consulted a more experienced physician about getting appointments directly with lawmakers. “My colleague asked me, ‘Where were you during the elections?’ and told me that legislators who didn’t know who I was would not make me a priority,” recalled Dr. Gill. “He encouraged me to get to know them during election time when they need votes and money. I realized that most politicians hate raising money even though they have to do it. If you can help them raise money, you have a friend for life and those appointments are easier to get when legislation concerns orthopaedic issues.”
Becoming an advocate
“Once I understood the key to getting involved, I began attending fundraisers and working on campaigns. Eventually I was hosting fundraisers and making friends. I have served on statewide, gubernatorial, congressional, and even presidential campaigns,” he said.
As his political involvement increased, so did Dr. Gill’s activities within the AAOS. He was elected to the Board of Councilors (BOC), where he established the Key Contact program. The Ambassador program, as it is known, identifies fellows who have relationships with members of Congress or those willing to build them through targeted advocacy outreach and asks them to weigh in with those members when issues of importance arise.
Dr. Gill was elected to the BOC leadership line and served on the AAOS Board of Directors. He chaired the Advocacy Resource Committee and served as chair-elect of the PAC Executive Committee. In addition to his involvement in AAOS, he is a current delegate to the AMA House of Delegates, representing the Texas Medical Association, and is a past president of the TOA.
“When I speak on advocacy, I usually begin with two simple questions: Do you know the name of your congressman? More importantly, does your congressman know your name? If the answer is no, you should do something about it. The AAOS has many avenues to help fellows engage in advocacy activities outside the PAC. I hope we can build an army of orthopaedic surgeons across the nation with strong personal relationships with many members of Congress,” said Dr. Gill.
Continuing the PAC’s successes
In his new role, Dr. Gill plans to combine his passions for advocacy and politics. “This is an exciting time,” he said. “The 2016 election cycle will be critical to the future path of health care in this nation. Building relationships and getting to know the candidates and the lawmakers at all levels will be more important than ever.”
After working with Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, outgoing PAC chair, Dr. Gill is eager to build on previous PAC successes. “Dr. Weinstein led the PAC to new levels during his 8-year tenure. I am honored to follow in his very large footprints. We now have one of the largest physician PACs in the nation, with a participation level above 30 percent. As chairman, I hope to continue that upward movement and increase our participation rate by bringing in new fellows and improving our retention rate,” he said.
“In particular, I would like to focus on getting young surgeons involved at the beginning of their careers and creating a culture of giving to the PAC. It should be as common to renew giving to the PAC as it is to renew a medical license or AAOS membership. That means proving why the PAC is so relevant to the everyday practice environment and why it is crucial to have friends on Capitol Hill who know who we are and what orthopaedic surgeons do.”
For more information on the Orthopaedic PAC, visit www.aaos.org/pac
Kristin Brackemyre is the Orthopaedic PAC manager in the AAOS office of government relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org