Orthopaedic Residents in Action: A Look at Capitol Hill

TOA places an emphasis on bringing orthopaedic residents to Washington, DC, every year to meet with Congress about issues that affect musculoskeletal care in Texas. Ultimately, the residents are the future of orthopaedics in Texas.

This year, Abe Bankole, MD, and Elizabeth Duckworth, MD, of the Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program at the University of Texas Dell medical School and Alexis Rounds, MD, of Texas Tech joined TOA on Capitol Hill in September.

TOA recently sat down with Drs. Bankole and Duckworth to talk about their experience in Washington.

TOA: What has your role in orthopaedic advocacy been like so far in your career?

Abe Bankole: Prior to my experience on Capitol Hill, I have not been involved in advocacy. While I received the TOA and AAOS email updates, I ever understood the purpose of what advocacy was all about. Going to Washington DC, and seeing the process first hand has been very enlightening and I now want to make advocacy a big part of my orthopedic career. 

Elizabeth Duckworth: I have had essentially no role in orthopaedic advocacy thus far. Being at an Austin-based program, I have had the good fortune to have surface awareness of the work TOA does locally in Texas as well as nationally, and I had spoken a few times to my senior residents who had worked closely with TOA. I was also aware of the work of our chairman and soon to be AAOS President Dr. Kevin Bozic has had with CMS in payment policy and advocacy on a national level. But I had not personally done any advocacy prior to this trip. 

TOA: What was your overall impression of visiting Capitol Hill with TOA? Do you think that it made a difference? 

Elizabeth Duckworth: The visit was extremely educational. I had very little insight into the structure of a Congressional or Senate office staff and limited understanding of which House and Senate committees work most closely on health care policy.

The most striking impression was that the machine is much larger than I realized. It was fascinating to watch interactions both between the TOA representatives who had been advocating regularly on the Hill for years with the elected officials whom they had known for years and with the new staffers who seem to live on much shorter cycles.

I left the trip with a lot of respect for both the public servants who spend their careers working to improve conditions for their constituents and for the many dedicated physicians who prioritize advocacy. One of the most striking comments that was repeated several times is that the physician advocacy generally, and orthopedic advocacy specifically, is highly fragmented, which is detrimental and confusing to the staffers and members. 

Abe Bankole: My impression of visiting Capitol Hill with TOA was very eye opening. I now understand that in order to protect the interests of our profession and our livelihoods, we have to go out and ensure that the laws and policies that are being passed have our experiences in mind. I hope we were able to at least start the conversation about important issues that affect orthopedic surgeons. 

TOA: What did you tell your colleagues about your visit when you made it back home? 

Abe Bankole: I told my friends and family that I was able to talk to lawmakers and their staff about issues and solutions we would like to see addressed. 

Elizabeth Duckworth: There are many more layers to the process than I ever thought. The individual members of the House and Senate don’t have the bandwidth to learn the nuances of health policy, so they rely on a dedicated team of staffers to educate them. Meetings are quick, and we were part of a dozen or more meetings that a staffer might have in a given day. The most effective advocates speak for a large group with a single voice. 

TOA: What are your next steps for advocacy as a result of the trip?

Elizabeth Duckworth: I would love to return to the Hill next year with TOA! I will also be keeping a closer eye on work that can be done locally in Austin and pay greater attention to what the various professional societies I belong to have to say on advocacy and how I can leverage my voice to improve the lives of my patients. 

Abe Bankole: I definitely want to return to Capitol Hill next year. Now that I see how advocacy works, I will become a contributing member to both the TOA PAC and AAOS PAC in addition to staying up to date on what policies are being passed here locally in Texas and across the US.