Use Your Doctor Voice

Robyn K. Rogers, MD, FAAP
Pediatric Hospitalist
Inpatient Pediatric Services
Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital

Doctors like to talk. We talk to our patients, their families, our multidisciplinary team members, each other. We particularly like to talk about what troubles or frustrates us, the recurrent problems we repeatedly see in our work and potential solutions we envision. But much of this speech stays in the silo of medicine. I’ve discovered that people outside of healthcare or social service often have very little idea about who we are, what we do or the challenges we face.

Take for example the pediatric behavioral health crisis. WE know kids are held for days in ERs and wait months for counselors, all while suicide becomes the 2nd leading cause of death for 14-24 year olds. The (non-medical) world at large finds this both surprising and horrifying. The issues we consider overwhelmingly obvious are lightning bolts to both the public generally and to the very people we most need for assistance: legislators, budget stakeholders or policy influencers.

On Friday January 27th I spoke in a different venue. With fellow WCAAP members, Sarah Hutcheson, April Jaeger, and Lelach Rave, I testified before the Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee. Our mission was to share our experiences of the growing crisis of inadequate pediatric behavioral health resources and the brutal price it’s exacting on our patients, their families, our facilities and our state. The panel was organized by the WCAAP and every element of it was fostered and streamlined by the always-supportive, never-tiring WCAAP staff. All we doctors had to do was show up and speak about what we already knew from our own work. In other words, we used our doctor voices.

You use your doctor voice every day: when you examine patients, counsel parents, consult colleagues, direct medical staff, collaborate with team members. You are already the trained speaker, the seasoned documenter, the concise story teller, the practical solution finder. YOU are what legislators call “subject matter experts” and they want to hear from you.

The next business day after our testimony, I was contacted by Senator Steve O’Ban’s office in follow up. Today, less than 3 weeks later, Senator O’Ban spent the morning at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital meeting with medical and behavioral health specialists to learn more about how he can use HIS voice to amplify ours. Standing in the ER’s stripped down “reduced risk” rooms used for holding psychiatrically unstable patients, he asked, “How can I help you? Tell me what you need.” We were also joined by Mary Ann Woodruff of Pediatrics Northwest to help the Senator learn how we can get upstream and help children and families much earlier via the medical home. This meeting of front lines healthcare personnel and a front lines lawmaker would never have occurred without the WCAAP.

Advocacy is merely an extension of skills you already have, for issues you already know. Your biggest surprise might be how keenly the power players want to listen to you. The “doctor” title opens doors and bends ears; you won’t believe how quickly and how much.

Personally, I have found advocacy to be one of my primary antidotes to burn-out. By definition all children are vulnerable. They all need a voice. A doctor’s voice. YOUR voice.  Your biggest reward might be the satisfaction of being heard and sense of professional renewal that comes from taking action. The WCAAP can show you how.

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