Published 10/1/2016
Eugene Stautberg, MD; Jessica Stautberg

Developing a Unified Advocacy Front

AAOS Advocacy Forum creates a foundation for spouse involvement
His perspective
As expectant parents, my wife and I are establishing a game plan on how to be a team—a unified front—in raising our child. We want to be on the same page with respect to discipline, school, and even what type of snacks he can eat (eg, gluten-free candy instead of gummy bears).

Orthopaedic surgeons need a similar approach when it comes to spreading the orthopaedic advocacy message. Here again, we can turn to our spouses—an often untapped, but valuable resource.

With that in mind, my wife and I attended the National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference (NOLC) this year as a team. On the first day of the conference my wife took part in the newly expanded Advocacy Forum for Orthopaedic Advocates, created by David Mansfield, MD, and AAOS Second Vice-President David A. Halsey, MD, which was open to spouses. My wife was cautiously optimistic about this opportunity: Was this event going to be meaningful and helpful? Or was it just a whimsical activity to keep her busy?

In the end, it turned out to be a very worthwhile experience for my wife. She found it helpful to learn about the advocacy message and female-specific orthopaedic issues prior to our attending the "Hill Training" seminar. When we met with our local representative on Capitol Hill the following day, we were both prepared and well-versed on the issues.

Her perspective
At the Advocacy Forum, I sat at a round table in a room full of women. We introduced ourselves, finding out where everyone was from and if they had attended NOLC before. Conversation was light, centered on children, vacation plans, and how cold it was in the conference room.

The tone changed, however, when the keynote speaker began her presentation. It wasn't because Miho Tanaka, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins, was overly serious or unfriendly. Rather, it was because she addressed a serious issue: The differences in treatment of male and female athletes, particularly with respect to anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Her speech was a call for awareness for better care for female athletes. The lecture was informative and well-researched; it certainly wasn't dumbed down for physicians' spouses. And because I'm interested in feminist issues, it was right up my alley.

In other words, this was no flower arranging class, as another spouse put it.

Dr. Tanaka was introduced by Lisa K. Cannada, MD, who spoke to us about advocacy in general and opportunities for further education. The remainder of the afternoon focused on how we as spouses could engage in bone health advocacy. After viewing a short presentation on the use of social media for advocacy, we broke into group sessions.

Ann McGraw, the wife of John J. McGraw, MD, led my group. Through our group discussions, I discovered that the women at our table were both passionate and knowledgeable about bone health advocacy. Our group came up with goals for orthopaedic advocacy, including nutrition education to increase osteoporosis awareness.

Our perspective
During dinner the night before our Capitol Hill visit, our discussion took on a different dynamic than it usually does when we attend conferences together. Instead of discussing what sights my wife saw while I was in meetings, we spent dinner going over our game plan for the next day. I was excited to share this experience with her, and she enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about orthopaedic advocacy on a national level.

The following day on Capitol Hill we joined the Texas delegation—15 orthopaedic advocates from diverse practice settings including academic, solo practice, group practice, and employed. Our goals were to educate the congressional aides from each of our individual districts on the scope of orthopaedics and to work on developing relationships with our local leaders.

Visiting Capitol Hill together as a unified force in support of orthopaedic advocacy was very rewarding for my wife and me. We were able to offer our individual perspectives when educating congressional aides on orthopaedic interests and on how specific bills affect orthopaedics. Overall, we were impressed that many of the aides already possessed knowledge about our bills, and that their legislator already cosponsored one or more of the bills in question. It's heartening to know that lawmakers like Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and the rest of the Texas congressional delegation have the best interests of doctors and patients in mind.

Involving spouses with advocacy efforts may also help AAOS members transition to being politically active on a local level. After jointly attending conferences such as NOLC, my wife and I bring the message back home to our families, practices, and communities. For example, we will be speaking at a Junior League of Galveston County meeting this fall about women's health and osteoporosis prevention. This will raise awareness of a growing epidemic, as well as spread the orthopaedic advocacy message and help solidify orthopaedists as the leaders in musculoskeletal care.

We encourage an increase in the number of events targeted at spouses at orthopaedic conferences and events. Not only will this engage spouses, but it may also increase attendance by orthopaedists at these events. With spouses helping to spread the orthopaedic message, our profession will continue to secure care for our patients for years to come.

My wife enjoyed becoming an orthopaedic advocate—it is a cause we both support. Now, if we could only decide what candy snacks should be on the "approved" list for our unborn child.            

Eugene Stautberg, MD, is a PGY-5 resident at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas.Jessica Stautberg is Dr. Stautberg's spouse.