CHEST Changers panel aims to reinspire practitioner advocacy

Drew Harris, MD, FCCP
Drew Harris, MD, FCCP

Doctors pursue medicine because they want to help people and communities, both inside and outside the clinic. But many find it difficult to advocate for the causes they care about because of constraints on their time or not knowing where to start.

At CHEST 2022, four physicians will explain how their passion projects fit into their busy clinical and personal schedules. The panel, CHEST Changers: Getting Involved in Advocacy, will be held from 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM CT on Tuesday, October 18, in Room 104A. During the session, the panelists will share the very different ways they contribute and recommend strategies that their peers can use to get involved.

“This session is geared toward reinspiring people to make big changes in their communities while recognizing that there’s not a single correct way to do this,” said Drew Harris, MD, FCCP, an assistant professor at University of Virginia (UVA) Health who specializes in severe asthma and black lung disease.

The discussion will be relevant to practitioners who feel overwhelmed when considering involvement as well as those who already advocate but are eager to do more. It will touch on strategies that can be used clinically—such as reframing time-consuming peer-to-peer interactions as patient advocacy—or externally by authoring op-eds or social media posts to influence health policy, disseminate research results, or share public health messages.

To find their niche, Dr. Harris recommends that doctors “listen to your patients and your community to find out what is needed. Figure out who is already doing something in the area you are inspired to pursue. Recognize that there are many amazing community-based organizations and potential mentors—including those at CHEST—prepared to help you contribute. As a first step, consider becoming a partner in an existing advocacy project.”

The panel will feature three experts who trained together as fellows at Harvard University:

  • Amy Ahasic, MD, MPH, FCCP, section chief of pulmonary and critical care at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut, promotes national change through billing and coding adjustments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped improve access to pulmonary rehabilitation services through the creation of new CPT codes.
  • Laura Crotty Alexander, MD, associate professor in pulmonary and critical care at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), focuses on shaping health policies around e-cigarettes and vaping, with the goal of regulating access and educating community pulmonologists and the public about the dangers these products pose to young people.
  • Robert Owens, MD, a sleep medicine specialist and professor of medicine at UCSD, is encouraging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to revise national coverage criteria for at-home use of noninvasive ventilation so that people with conditions such as COPD and sleep apnea will be more likely to get the devices they need.

In his own talk, Dr. Harris, who teaches a seminar about advocacy to internal medicine residents at UVA, will discuss his participation in a medical-legal partnership in Charlottesville, VA, that focuses on the social determinants of lung health. He will also touch on his work writing medical-legal statements on behalf of coal miners in Appalachia to help them secure federal black lung benefits.

“Writing long legal opinions is certainly not as exciting as ICU medicine, but, in doing so, I can help coal miners secure federal black lung benefits, which provide a modest monthly stipend and health insurance,” he said. “This is often life-changing for families who face many challenges related to the social determinants of health.”

Dr. Harris hopes that hearing about these experiences will inspire session attendees to jump into advocacy.

“It brings us back to what we all entered medicine for, which was to help people and help communities,” he said. “We want to reignite the flames that brought us all into medicine in the first place.”

With your peers, decision-makers, and media members in attendance, CHEST 2022 is an extraordinary chance to advocate for the things that matter most to you. Make your voice heard by engaging with one of the advocacy opportunities available onsite.