Pennsylvania Medical Society
From L-R: Martin Trichtinger, MD; Valerie Arkoosh, MD; and PAMED’s executive vice president Michael Fraser, PhD, CAE
Michael Fraser, PAMED’s executive vice president, recently had the opportunity to catch up with
Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, an obstetric anesthesiologist and PAMED member running for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania’s 13th District. The 13th District is located in southeastern Pennsylvania, and covers eastern Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia. Watch a portion of the interview in this video.
Here’s what Dr. Arkoosh had to say about what makes physicians uniquely qualified to serve as elected officials and why she is interested in running for Congress.
A. Two things. First, I was chair of my department in what is now the Drexel medical school. I took over that chairmanship after the Allegheny University bankruptcy. And, I inherited a multi-million dollar budget deficit and it was my job to stabilize and turn it around. That experience really showed me the many complexities in our current health care system. At the same time, as a clinician who was taking care of pregnant women in Philadelphia, I was seeing my patients fall through the cracks for many, many reasons that had nothing to do with an illness — lack of jobs that paid a living wage, lack of an education that prepared them for those jobs, and a health care system that frequently discriminated against patients with preexisting conditions.
A. I think physicians are hesitant to become involved in the political process for a lot of different reasons. It is time consuming — no question about it. But I think, more importantly, there really is nothing in our training that prepares us for this kind of work, and I think that’s really to our detriment. The pieces that it takes — the public engagement, the policy side, how to get involved in that political process — are things that are not terribly complicated. But they are skills that do need to be learned and acquired. I really hope that our medical education system, starts to incorporate more policy training and even all the civics lessons so that so that physicians are more comfortable in getting involved in this because it’s so important for our patients and our practices.
Q. We here at PAMED certainly agree. It’s always exciting to see physicians running for elected office, but what skills do physicians need to take that step? Q. We here at PAMED certainly agree. It’s always exciting to see physicians running for elected office, but what skills do physicians need to take that step?
A. We haven’t seen too many physicians who are willing to run for office. Right now in the House of Representative, there are a total of 17 physicians. There are no women physicians in the House or the Senate. And clearly, we need to change that. I think it’s a little bit of a leap for physicians to go into politics. On the surface, it looks like it’s very different from our training as clinicians. But I could tell you, having been involved in this for a while, it’s really not that different. You need to be able to listen to people; having empathy for people who have a different viewpoint than you (and we do that all the time with patients); being able to bring people with some big egos to sit at the table and actually get them to come to a compromise on a decision or course of action (again, something we do a lot of). And very importantly — and wouldn’t it be great if we had this in Congress — doctors actually pay attention to data and evidence when they make decisions. I would really like to see people in Congress approach their policymaking that way.
A. As I said, I think physicians have a lot in their background and training that will serve us well as legislators and policymakers. I think most importantly, physicians every single day make lots of decisions and we make those decisions working with all different kinds of people. We often have to bring people together who have conflicting views about next steps for a patient, get people to sit down, listen respectfully to one another and actually come to a decision. Wouldn’t it be nice to do that in Congress right now?
The other piece that I think is so important is that physicians look at things comprehensively. I also happen to have a public health degree. But even without that, what I see so much of in Congress is people who legislate in silos. They pass a narrow piece of legislation, they check a box. I liken that to if a patient came to me with diabetes and high blood pressure, and asthma, and I only treated the diabetes and sent them on their way and told them to live a healthy life. Clearly, I wouldn’t have solved the problem. And as a policymaker in Washington, I intend to be someone that looks at problems comprehensively so that we can really try to solve some of our most challenging issues.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with your physician colleagues across the state about advocacy and physician leadership? Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with your physician colleagues across the state about advocacy and physician leadership?
A. As I have this great opportunity to speak to my physician colleagues around the state, I would want any one of you to do anything you are comfortable doing to get more civically engaged in your community. The most important thing that you can do as a physician is speak on behalf of your patients and your practices to your legislators, whether it be at the local, state, or federal level. It is your voices that are so impactful to members of Congress and our legislators in Harrisburg. No one better than you can explain what your patients are going through, what your practices are going through, and what solutions will work best in your own community. So the one piece of advice that I could give to you is get engaged. It’s not that hard, it doesn’t take that much time, and you will come to very quickly see that you can get a lot of really great things done in your community. You’ve got to just step up and take that little bit of extra effort.
Dr. Arkoosh has been supported by AMPAC and PAMPAC. For more information on physician advocacy and PAMED’s political affairs work, contact Larry Light, vice president for advocacy and political affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (717) 558-7821.