Texas Medical Association Alliance members are core organizers for political advocacy in local government as well as events at the Texas Legislature. In fact, it was alliance members who created TMA’s award-winning advocacy program, First Tuesdays at the Capitol, in 2003.
Susan Todd, alliance president in 2002-03, came up with the idea as a way to boost TMA’s advocacy for what are now landmark medical liability reforms. (See, “Priority: Medical Liability Reforms,” page 19.)
“We had to get the legislators to not only pass [the reforms] but also a constitutional amendment that could be voted on by the public,” she said. “We’d been working on that for a good many years and felt like our time was right, so we felt like we needed to make our presence known much more regularly.”
Until then, the TMA Alliance had held a once-a-session health fair for legislators and their staff each year in the Capitol basement. TMA Alliance members wanted instead to create a monthly presence, which brought to mind the First Monday Trade Days held at Texas flea markets, Ms. Todd says.
Since many legislators are not in the office on Monday mornings, she hit upon the idea of starting First Tuesdays at the Capitol. “We did it that year, and it was very successful, so we just decided to keep doing it.”
Now, on the first Tuesday of every month during state legislative sessions, hundreds of physicians, medical students, and alliance members descend on Austin to share their views with lawmakers.
“This is a very good forum for us to come here and talk to [lawmakers],” said Corpus Christi pediatrician Daniel Vijjeswarapu, MD, a long-time First Tuesdays attendee along with his wife, Martha – a member of the TMA Alliance. “And every time we go back, it [reinforces] the message that resonates with our patients and with our legislators.”
TMA Alliance members who are not physicians also make effective messengers for medicine precisely because they can explain medical issues to lawmakers in laypeople’s terms, Ms. Todd says.
“They understand it frequently from a nonmedical perspective, and they also can speak to what it can be like to be in a medical family and the impact of some of the legislation that affects a medical family,” she said.
Talking to physician spouses also humanizes physicians in the eyes of legislators, says TMA Alliance Immediate Past President Jennifer Lewis, whose husband is San Antonio colorectal surgeon W. Cannon Lewis, MD.
“We provide that buffer that allows nonmedical legislators to see that physicians are not insurance companies and big pharmacies,” she said. “They are health care professionals who just want to be allowed to do what’s best for their patients on a case-by-case basis.”
Even when legislative sessions conclude, TMA’s advocacy foot soldiers continue to build relationships with lawmakers locally in their districts before the next legislative session begins.
Those opportunities still give “that First Tuesdays at the Capitol experience at the county level,” Ms. Todd said. “Go talk to your legislators when they’re at home.”
Sign Me Up!
This year’s First Tuesdays are scheduled for Feb. 7, March 7, April 4, and May 2. Registration is $25, with fees waived for residents and students. A special hotel room rate of $259 is available on the Monday night prior. For more information and to sign up, visit www.texmed.org/FirstTuesdays.