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The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology sponsors a trip each year for two UAB Ophthalmology residents to travel to Washington, D.C., as Advocacy Ambassadors for the group’s Mid-Year Forum, where they interact with lawmakers and are exposed to critical issues facing their chosen profession.
The Mid-Year Forum features several events and activities including Congressional Advocacy Day, the Mid-Year Forum sessions, and the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology Council meeting. The resident ambassadors attend as part of the Advocacy Ambassador Program, which was created in 2004 to educate residents and fellows early in their careers about the importance of political action and organized involvement in ophthalmology at both the state and national levels.
“While the UAB residents learn about the clinical and surgical aspects of ophthalmology during their training, it is vital that they also learn about the importance of physician advocacy in a rapidly changing health care environment that is highly regulated by government,” says Lindsay Rhodes, MD, assistant professor in UAB Department of Ophthalmology. “By exposing these future ophthalmologists to advocacy early in their careers, we are hoping they become engaged in protecting their patients’ vision beyond the operating room.”
At the Mid-Year Forum, the Advocacy Ambassadors attend sessions about hot topics and issues facing ophthalmology. During Congressional Advocacy Day, the residents are paired with seasoned ophthalmologists for visits with legislators and key staff on Capitol Hill. At the Council Meeting, ambassadors are special guests and learn about the Council’s role as the policy advisory body to the Academy’s Board of Trustees.
In 2015, more than 400 ophthalmologists attended the Mid-Year Forum.
“It is important for physicians to be informed on policy decisions that affect our patients, and meeting with our congressmen provided an opportunity to do just that,” says resident Kevin Bray, MD. “The energy of other young physicians at the meeting was contagious, and it was rewarding to bring some of that energy back to Birmingham.”