By: Elaine Wang, MD
The first time I ever wrote a letter to a legislator, I was in the 4th grade. We were learning about “current events” at school and our teacher tasked us with writing letters to our state representatives. I no longer remember what the subject of my letter was or whether my teacher mailed them, but the activity did instill in me a sense of responsibility to be an active citizen.
Today, I am a pediatric resident at Connecticut Children’s and a proud advocate for children. Children cannot speak for themselves and rely on adults who care for and about them to speak on their behalf. As a pediatrician, I am in a unique position to be a natural advocate for children. As part of my training, I spent one month learning about legislative advocacy and how to work with lawmakers to advance children’s health issues. It was during this time that I met the Connecticut Children’s government relations team, which serves as the link between our institution and our elected officials. In addition to all their usual work, the government relations team works with our residency program to demystify the legislative process. They informed us about proposed bills related to children’s health, invited us to public policy council meetings, and sponsored a Pediatric Lobby Day.
This past year, I attended Pediatric Lobby Day with several of my residency classmates. We visited the Legislative Office Building in Hartford and met with members of the Appropriations Committee. This was the first time I met any elected officials. I was nervous to speak to them, especially about important issues such as funding for our hospital. The people we met were friendly, professional, and truly eager to learn about our personal experiences as front line providers at Connecticut Children’s. We informed them about how deeply we care for children in Connecticut and how much work Connecticut Children’s does to maintain pediatric health and wellness. The experience was not intimidating at all and showed me that I already have the information and tools to advocate for children – I just needed to speak up. The fact is, it is those who show up and speak up who are heard and influence important decisions that affect our children. As health care workers and parents, we see the direct impact of healthcare on child and adolescent health and well-being. We all have powerful personal stories that we can share to help lawmakers keep children’s health in mind.
Our Government Relations team hosted its annual Family Advocacy Week virtually this month. The week included workshops on advocacy, informational sessions on current advocacy projects, and engagement opportunities. Several panel discussions covered how children fared through the COVID-19 pandemic and ways to improve the health and emotional well-being of children. The week served as a great opportunity to build advocacy skills, gain confidence and gather necessary tools to begin speaking on behalf of children and their health.
Another easy way to get involved is to sign up for Connecticut Children’s Champions where you can get updates about proposed legislation and policy issues that impact children’s health. The Children’s Hospital Association also offers the Speak Now For Kids online advocacy network which helps you contact local, state and federal officials about important children’s health issues and even provides a pre-written email to send to elected officials. I’ve been able to contact my elected officials using this platform many times, usually in under five minutes!
Most recently, I used the platform to contact my representatives in Congress to support COVID-19 relief funding for children’s hospitals. Though children’s hospitals were relatively spared from large numbers of critically ill patients, we contributed resources in the form of masks, ventilators, and other supplies to adult hospitals. Furthermore, as every sector has taken a financial hit during the pandemic, so too have the children’s hospitals that rely heavily on federal funding to continue operations and serve the community. The Connecticut Children’s community sent hundreds of letters using the “Speak Now for Kids” platform and we have received positive responses.
Advocacy can take many forms, ranging from a concerned parent calling their representative to talk about issues affecting their own child’s health, to a doctor submitting formal testimony on a piece of legislation affecting their patient population. As members of the voting public, we are all constituents. Therefore, we all have a voice to be heard and we need to use that voice to speak on behalf of our children.
Elaine Wang, MD is a resident physician at Connecticut Children’s and the UConn School of Medicine.
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