As physicians, we have many opportunities to join organizations of all kinds—trade and professional organizations, fraternal organizations, social groups, etc. And if my schedule is typical of others’, I’m sure you already feel overwhelmed by work obligations, finding time for family and friends and leisure activities. So I am aware that when I ask you to consider joining another organization it is necessary to explain what the organization is, what its mission is, and what makes it different from other areas of organized medicine.
The National Physicians Alliance (NPA; http://npalliance.org/) is a multi-specialty organization that I first learned about early in 2009. I can’t remember how I found them initially, but as I looked over the organization’s website I was struck by its mission and its dedication to re-establishing core values of medicine: service, advocacy and integrity. The NPA’s introductory video (http://npalliance.org/dvd/) struck many chords for me. As a family physician who has spent all my career working with underserved patients, I have been struck by the inequalities and health disparities that currently exist in our health care system. I have been very concerned about working to bring quality health care to those who lack access through “standard” pathways. I was thrilled with the discovery of a group whose care beliefs and mission statement aligned so well with my goals and ideals (http://npalliance.org/content/pages/guiding_principles). The NPA's guiding principles include placing patients' best interests above all else, addressing the bio-psycho-social influences on health and focusing on community wellness as well as individual patient health; and emphasizing professional and collaborative approaches to care. Recently, the NPA has been an active voice in the health care reform debate, and has advocated for separating physicians from PhRMA and industry influence. These are positions not seen often enough or heard loud enough in more traditional medical organizations.
Physicians need to stay engaged in organized medicine. I feel that the VAFP and the AAFP represent me well on many professional fronts: payment and health care delivery reform, advocating for the specialty as a career and as a profession at state and national levels. However, by the nature of many large medical organizations, direct advocacy has been a smaller part of the VAFP and AAFP missions. Personally, this leaves something lacking. As is the case for so many of us, I entered medical school to make a difference. Medicine is a service career, and I feel that physicians must work to care for patients in any way we can. This can range from direct clinical care, formal political activities (such as contacting legislative leaders and key policymakers), teaching medical students and residents all the way to more direct advocacy such as writing letters to the editor, speaking with local media outlets, participating in public events to promote care and wellness for all.
To this end, I have become increasingly involved in the NPA’s efforts to push for better health for patients and a more fair and just health care system that adequately addresses the needs of all Americans, including the marginalized and the underprivileged. I am hoping to find other family physicians in Virginia who share this interest and who are interested in establishing a local action network (LAN) in order to further the NPA's national agenda while also establishing a group to address and act upon issues of local interest and importance. The NPA describes the roles of LANs as:
"The NPA's Local Networks are critical partners in the work of the national organization. Some Local Networks work on issues championed by NPA on the national level, while others focus on more specific local issues that are consonant with the NPA mission. This unique model allows NPA to partner with groups of physicians who are interested in our vision and could benefit from the organizational resources of the NPA. Local Networks, in turn, help to enhance the mission of the NPA by focusing on specific issues about which their members feel passionate and by expanding the network of physicians who find their professional home at the NPA."
With this year’s passage of health care reform and the challenges and opportunities inherent in its implementation, these are exciting (and sometimes scary) times to be a physician. Even as our health care system is poised to improve health for all Americans, the final outcome is far from certain. I have found the NPA gives me a voice towards advocacy on behalf of patients that energizes me and that has made me more willing to step forward during these turbulent times. I feel that I am doing the right thing, by my oath to always put patients’ wellness first and by my belief that as physicians our voices need to be heard. I hope that you agree with me, and I hope that you are willing to join me.