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Doctors in front of the Capitol

Pediatricians from Georgia met with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga., center) outside the U.S. Capitol during the AAP Advocacy Conference.

Conference prepares pediatricians to advocate for online protections for youths

May 1, 2023

For the first time since 2019, the AAP Advocacy Conference was held in Washington, D.C., bringing more than 320 pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists and pediatric trainees to the nation’s capital for two-and-a-half days of child health advocacy.

Hailing from 46 states and D.C., attendees put their advocacy skills to the test and took to Capitol Hill to urge their lawmakers to pass bipartisan policies to protect the privacy and safety of young people online.

The conference had several noteworthy highlights, including an inspiring plenary conversation with Reps. Kim Schrier, M.D., FAAP (D-Wash.), and Yadira Caraveo, M.D., FAAP (D-Colo.) — the first two pediatricians elected to Congress.

“Do not underestimate your power,” Rep. Schrier said. “People respect pediatricians sometimes even more than other doctors. They know that we are in this for the right reasons, and so go and feel confident and know that sometimes it will take coming back a few times to drive a message home, but that doesn’t mean you’re not making progress.”

Those themes echoed throughout the conference, from the workshop rooms to the plenary stage to the halls of Congress.

Day 1: Setting the advocacy foundation  

The conference, co-chaired by AAP Committee on Federal Government Affairs Chair Melinda A. Williams-Willingham, M.D., FAAP, and AAP Committee on State Government Affairs Chair Pam K. Shaw, M.D., FAAP, started off with a focus on advocacy skills-building and key child health advocacy priorities.

Attendees heard about the importance of pediatrician advocacy and why it was a critical moment to be in Washington speaking up for children and families.

“You are a trusted voice that brings knowledge and leadership to the discussion, and your personal stories about how regulations and legislation affects patients and families inspire lawmakers to take action,” AAP President Sandy L. Chung, M.D., FAAP, said in her welcome speech.

During a plenary session, attendees learned about effective vaccine messaging based on new research from the FrameWorks Institute. Later, Michael D. Warren, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, associate administrator of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, led an insightful panel discussion with pediatricians who serve in various roles across the federal government.

The day was capped off with a reception honoring pediatricians in government service and their commitment to advancing child health.

Day 2: Learning from experts, preparing for Capitol Hill

The second conference day continued with a spotlight on the perspectives of pediatricians in the highest levels of government.

Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel L. Levine, M.D., FAAP, spoke about what makes pediatricians effective child health advocates as well as her work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Later, Dr. Chung moderated a dynamic conversation with Reps. Schrier and Caraveo (pictured here). The lawmakers shared their journeys into public service, their experiences becoming members of Congress and the important role of pediatricians in shaping policies. Rep. Schrier was elected to Congress in 2018, and Rep. Caraveo won her election last fall.

“We need you in rooms with state officials, with commissioners, with congresspeople, with staffers talking about your ideas and your expertise,” Rep. Caraveo said.

The rest of the day was focused on learning about the issue for Capitol Hill and preparing for congressional meetings.

Attendees heard virtually from pediatricians with expertise in children and media: Nusheen Ameenuddin, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on Communications and Media (COCM), and Jenny Radesky, M.D., FAAP, chair-elect of COCM and co-medical director of the AAP Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health.

After a deep dive on their policy asks and an overview on how to conduct successful Hill meetings, attendees gathered with their state delegations to practice and hone their advocacy messaging.

Day 3: Advocating to Congress

Attendees headed to Capitol Hill early on the final conference day equipped with their key messages for Congress.

Following remarks from Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) emphasizing the importance of their advocacy, the state delegations were off to their meetings. Together, they called on their lawmakers to pass new online privacy, design and safety protections to create a more developmentally appropriate digital ecosystem for young people.

This advocacy came at a critical time as bipartisan interest and momentum has been building in Congress to address the issue. In total, the group had meetings in more than 250 offices across the House and Senate, including numerous meetings with lawmakers themselves.

In a debrief session, attendees discussed how their meetings went, lessons learned and key takeaways, as well as opportunities for sustained advocacy.

As Dr. Williams-Willingham put it in her closing remarks, “Importantly, we hope this is just the beginning.”

Save the date

The 2024 AAP Advocacy Conference will take place April 14-16 in Washington, D.C. Look to future issues of AAP News for registration information.

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