Hope Wittenberg: Your Advocacy Partner
You have likely seen Hope Wittenberg’s advocacy emails in your inbox or her posts on the AFMRD email discussion forum. But did you know this family medicine advocate in Washington, DC, is employed by the AFMRD (and three other family medicine organizations) to serve as your advocacy partner?
Wittenberg is the director of government relations for the Council of Academic Family Medicine (CAFM), which represents the AFMRD, the Association of Departments of Family Medicine (ADFM), the North American Primary Care Research Group (NAPCRG), and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM).
Advocacy Issues and Action
Wittenberg’s advocacy on behalf of the members of the CAFM organizations involves perennial areas of concern as well as emerging issues. For example, Wittenberg spends a great deal of time and effort on Medicare Graduate Medical Education (GME) issues and this year is no different. From Teaching Health Center funding, to Veterans Affairs GME slots, and advocating for specific rural GME fixes, she has worked to achieve outcomes that will support better funding and access to family medicine training. Another issue she is focused on is funding for primary care research, both generally and to provide resources and support to help programs meet scholarship requirements.
As for issues on the horizon, Wittenberg said, “With the election results we will see a great deal of congressional effort to repeal Obamacare and our work will be to maintain the gains to primary care and patient access included in the Affordable Care Act, as well as work to support overall GME reform, Title VII primary care training programs and strengthen agencies providing funding and support for primary care research.”
Partnering for Change
Wittenberg focuses on advocating at the national level; however, if there is a significant issue at a regional level, she may be able to help identify resources to assist there as well. “Realize I can help with many things,” she said. “If you have a visit with a member of Congress, if you need talking points on one of our issues, tips for communicating with your elected officials, or help with editing a leave-behind for your visit, I’m here to help.“
On the topic of effectively working together, Wittenberg said, “It’s important to understand that my role is to facilitate opportunities for you to speak out. I can identify issues and make connections. But it’s your voice that must be heard. You have the power. My efforts alone will not produce results. It truly is a partnership.”
Wittenberg finds it extremely valuable to have a presence on the AFMRD discussion forum, explaining that it alerts her as to what’s happening and informs her on the issues of the greatest concern to residency programs. The discussion forum also provides her with a way to quickly share with program directors updates and issues calling for action.
She stresses the importance of residency directors’ involvement in advocacy at the national level. Wittenberg said, “It’s very, very helpful. We need academics to speak up on GME and other training issues.”
Program Directors and Residents: A Powerful Presence in DC
One way Wittenberg encourages program directors to speak up is by joining the voices of other family physicians at the Family Medicine Advocacy Summit (formerly the Family Medicine Congressional Conference/FMCC).
During this annual conference, participants learn advocacy techniques, and then visit congressional offices in groups. “It’s really beneficial to have at least one academic in each group,” said Wittenberg. “It is a comfortable way to learn. You will be there with your colleagues, generally grouped by state. Even if you are the only one there from your state, you won’t be advocating alone. We will help you.”
Equally important is the participation of residents in advocacy. “Members of Congress love it when residents come in to talk with them,” Wittenberg said. “In residents, they see the future.” She suggests program directors encourage residents to get in involved in advocacy early and to make it part of their careers. “Advocacy teaches you skills that are useful in many situations in your career. How to hone down ‘the ask,’ how to make your argument concise and clear, how to develop arguments in support of your position,” she explains, “are all leadership skills you can use in many venues.”
Wittenberg says she appreciates the commitment the AFMRD has made to resident advocacy involvement by providing scholarships for 10 residents to attend the Family Medicine Advocacy Summit each year, and by encouraging the involvement of program directors themselves in attending the conference.
Although the Family Medicine Advocacy Summit is an ideal place to learn about – and practice – advocating for family medicine, there are other opportunities available. CAFM offers advocacy tools as well as a free online advocacy course that outlines best practices for how to educate legislators on the value of family medicine and encourage them to support expansion of a well-trained family medicine workforce.
You can also learn more about advocacy issues by attending Wittenberg’s workshops at the annual PDW and RPS Residency Education Symposium. This year, her workshop -- Impact of Federal Elections on Key Academic Health Care Issues: What's on Our Plate for 2017? -- will focus on how changes in the presidency, and the House of Representatives and Senate may have a major impact on efforts to achieve major primary care workforce legislation, including GME reform. The workshop will demonstrate the status of key legislative issues and where AFMRD members and program faculty can have influence over the legislative process to help bring about legislative success in key workforce issues.
Wittenberg moved to Washington, DC, in 1981, after earning a master's degree in physical anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She began work on Capitol Hill for the Hon. Hamilton Fish, Jr. (R-NY), serving as his legislative assistant, staffing many issues including Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs.
For three decades she has worked in a government relations capacity for various physician organizations representing them on issues ranging from Medicare, physician payment, CLIA, the ESRD program and appropriations.
Twenty-four years ago, she opened her Washington office to serve as the director of government relations for the Council of Academic Family Medicine (originally known as the Organizations of Academic Family Medicine). Since that time, Wittenberg has represented the AFMRD, STFM, ADFM, and NAPCRG on Capitol Hill and with the Department of Health and Human Services on issues of interest to academic family medicine such as funding for health professions training (Title VII), workforce (including Medicare GME), and primary care research issues.