The theme of advocacy permeated the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, D.C., from a reception honoring pediatricians in the federal government to a bipartisan rally for children on Capitol Hill to several keynote speakers hailing from the highest levels of federal government.
Spotlight on advocacy
On the first day of the conference, AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, M.D., M.S., FAAP, reflected on her own advocacy journey and the power of the pediatrician’s voice in ensuring what every child needs to thrive.
“It’s the individual voices and advocacy of each pediatrician that will raise the value of children in society,” Dr. Hassink said.
Following her remarks, ABC News and NPR political correspondent Cokie Roberts explained how pediatricians and child health advocates can influence the political landscape. She highlighted as examples the Academy’s work to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, prioritize children’s needs in disasters and renew child nutrition legislation.
Later in the conference, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke about the Academy’s value in Washington through its promotion of the importance of federal nutrition and school meals programs. He also noted the new AAP recommendation for pediatricians to screen children for food security, which was released in a policy statement at the beginning of the conference.
“The first adult I remember as a youngster who I could trust was my pediatrician,” Secretary Vilsack said while sharing his memories as a child growing up in foster care.
The AAP Washington, D.C., staff along with leaders from the D.C. Chapter helped capture participants’ energy at the Advocacy Action Center outside the exhibit hall. The center gave participants a place to let their federal legislators know they were in Washington, share an advocacy message on social media and learn more about the Academy’s federal advocacy efforts and how to get involved.
At a workshop titled “Incorporating Advocacy into a Busy Pediatric Practice,” Marsha Raulerson, M.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Federal Government Affairs, and Anne R. Edwards, M.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on State Government Affairs, shared their similar approaches to finding time to advocate for their patients within large and small clinical settings and urban and rural environments.
During the workshop, Olson Huff, M.D., FAAP, former chair of the AAP Committee on Federal Affairs and longtime child health advocate, said it plain and simple: “Advocacy is about influencing policy that we know will help the children who need us.”
In addition, the AAP Committee on Federal Government Affairs and the D.C. Chapter hosted a Pediatricians in the Federal Government reception for more than 250 attendees, including many pediatricians who have dedicated their work to advocating for the advancement of key child health policies and programs. From making medications more effective for children to ensuring children are safe during disasters, pediatricians in positions of power gave children a seat at the federal policy table in key areas where they otherwise may have been overlooked.
The advocacy finale: Rally on Capitol Hill
On the final day of the conference, the weather was unseasonably chilly and the skies a bit ominous. But the energy and enthusiasm of more than 200 pediatricians, many joined by their own children, was palpable as they gathered on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol to rally for children’s health.
Throughout the sea of attendees poked colorful signs with child health messages, “Put kids first!” and “I care for kids and I vote!”
Members of the media toting cameras and microphones circled the group, awaiting the start of the rally.
“2-4-6-8…We are here to advocate!” the crowd cheered.
Dr. Hassink kicked off the event, sharing the importance of being in Washington to speak up for children. She then turned the microphone over to AAP Executive Director/CEO Karen Remley, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., FAAP, who introduced the rally’s first speaker, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Following Sen. Merkley, a long list of federal legislators addressed the group, including Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
In between speakers, attendees’ excitement remained high. One participant shouted: “Every child needs: an advocate!” “Every child needs: good nutrition,” another sounded off. “Every child needs: vaccines!” one more voice chimed in.
During their remarks, each member of Congress emphasized the expert voice of pediatricians when it comes to child health advocacy and provided updates on several shared priorities, such as gun violence prevention, global health and child nutrition.
“The well-being of every American child should be our number one national priority,” said Rep. DeLauro, the final rally speaker. Pointing to the U.S. Capitol building behind her, she left the group with a call to action: “Keep fighting, keep rallying, shut down the phones in that building!”
To engage pediatricians who were unable to attend the rally, the Academy sent a communication to the entire membership, encouraging them to email their members of Congress or share on social media what every child needs using #everychildneeds.
Throughout the day, more than 1,000 tweets were shared by approximately 300 participants for a total of 2.4 million impressions on Twitter, spreading the child health messages beyond Capitol Hill. A Storify outlining the action on social media can be found at http://bit.ly/1NQlDuW.
To seemore photos from the rally, visit the AAP Department of Federal Affairs Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AAPFederalAffairs/.