An advocate is essentially a compelling teacher – and it’s a core skill of our Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) Graduate Medical Education (GME) Family Medicine Residency faculty. The long-term goal of advocacy is to influence the decision of a legislator. There are three main skills involved in advocating: educating yourself on the issues, quickly communicating a request with a persuasive ‘why’, and then actively listening to the response. These skills don’t just apply at the Georgia State Capital, but also to our patients and our residents as GME leaders. Practicing advocacy helps bring about positive change.
My first experience in advocacy came as a resident. I treated a patient who lived in rural Alabama that had end-stage renal disease. After caring for her in the hospital with repeated infections, I learned she had no running water at her house. She carried her water one block from a neighbor’s house – walking across railroad tracks. The railroad would not give permission for the county to divert water under the tracks to her residence. So, using my influence as a physician, I arranged a meeting with the county commissioner and the railroad. I’m happy to write that we were able to bring water to not only this patient but the entire neighborhood. It was this early experience that shaped my desire to help influence the community I lived in – for good. Providing opportunities for faculty and residents to advocate is an important mission of our residency program.
We have several great mentors. Dr. Samuel Le Church, a core faculty member of the Family Medicine Residency program at NGMC GME, practices in rural Hiawassee. He advocates in many ways in his leadership roles. He does this on the national level with AAFP and CMS, and on a state level with Medicaid. Dr. Dave Westfall, one of our program faculty members, has worked in our local north Georgia community a long time. In his previous role as a District Health Department Director, he has worked to make our community a healthier one.
Advocacy is a skill that is practiced. NGMC Family Medicine Residency faculty recently participated in 2019 Legislative Day at the Georgia State Capitol – or “Physicians Day at the Capital.” The team met with various state legislators and top government officials to discuss how state government and legislature changes can improve access to care for all Georgians, emphasize the importance of having a family physician, and encourage a pipeline for future family physicians.
As a new program, we want our incoming residents to know that we are here to advocate for them and our patients. This skill needs cultivating. As a learning organization, we are stretching our advocacy muscles!