Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

Advocacy for children’s health


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Many health problems facing today’s kids can’t be healed in an exam room, says Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics. That’s why she is leading a national ef-fort to teach pediatricians-in-training to advocate locally and nationally for children’s health. An advocacy course she teaches at Stanford University School of Medicine has been adopted at medical schools across the country, and she’s coordinating a statewide effort to ensure that all pediatric residents in California receive instruction in legislative advocacy.

Why do pediatricians need to advocate for children’s health care?

Pediatricians are in a unique position to bear witness to the failures of our health care system. All children need access to high-quality health care so that they can thrive, grow and reach their full potential. I believe it’s a fundamental human right. But today 9 million children in the United States don’t have health insurance. As physicians, we need to advocate for change. That means all pediatricians need the ability to work in communities, interact with the media and engage in child health policy, whether at a local school board meeting or in Washington, D.C.

What’s the biggest challenge facing kids’ health care today?

We need to ensure universal coverage for children. I’m grateful that the Obama administration has approved the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which will extend health care coverage to more children whose families could not otherwise afford it. And while our cur-rent financial situation presents a challenge, I am hopeful that the new administration will move forward and guarantee health care for all children in the United States.

What is the most important piece of advice you give when teaching young doctors to advocate for patients?

Follow your passion. Effective advocacy comes when speaking from both head and heart.

What’s the biggest advocacy success you’ve seen from the residents you mentor?

The residents have led a huge variety of successful projects. In one local example, parents in East San Jose wanted to renovate a school playing field so their kids could play soccer. We helped the parents present their idea to the school board and obtain grant funding for the renovation. A second project is taking us to Africa, where we’re helping doctors and nurses at a new hospital in Malawi obtain training and equipment for pediatric care. On the political front, we organized a national day of rallies in 2007 asking Congress to extend SCHIP. The rally organizers founded an advocacy organization for pediatricians-in-training, REACH, which continues to work toward better health care for kids.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your advocacy?

Caring for individual patients as a physician and for entire populations of children through advocacy is a fantastic privilege. Practicing on both levels gives me great energy and fights burnout. After all, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

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