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Q&A with Felicia Skelton-Dudley, MD, MS


Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, Investigator at the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, and Staff Physician in the Spinal Cord Injury Care Line at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

How did you get started in your advocacy efforts?

During residency, we were asked to develop our professional mission statement. After thinking about what values were important to me, I came up with "to advocate for people with disability through science." I sought out opportunities to do so, starting as resident liaison to a Public Policy-like Committee for another association.

What skills learned during your medical training have helped you in your advocacy efforts? What new skills have you had to develop?

One skill that medicine (and especially physiatry) has taught me that is helpful with advocacy efforts is finding common ground. Just like a patient is more likely to buy in to your plan of care if they feel they've had some say in it, policy makers are more likely to be interested in what you have to say if you take the time to find out what's important to them. A skill I've developed working with the AAP’s Public Policy Committee is strategic planning--aligning committee goals to the organization's mission.

What challenges have you encountered?

Access! One of the main lobbying efforts I trained and planned for during residency was cancelled due to a government shutdown, and it seems as though many of the in-person efforts I'd hope to engage in during my time as Chair of the AAP’s Public Policy Committee will be delayed/cancelled due to the pandemic. We'll still find ways to be effective virtually though!

Why did you take on the role of Chair of the AAP’s Public Policy Committee? What are your goals?

Dr. John Whyte kindly asked me to! But in all seriousness, I have a passion for effecting change through policy, and it aligns with my professional mission. My goals for my term as Chair are to 1) raise awareness among AAP membership of all of the efforts our committee puts toward elevating academic physiatry at a national level (advocating for research and educational funding), as well as legislation that positively affects physiatrists and our patients; and 2) develop the infrastructure for bilateral communication between AAP members and our committee. We want to know what's important to you!

How have you seen advocacy change over your career?

Yes, even in my short career. Social media and its ever-evolving platforms are changing how we receive information, and therefore, how many decide what's worth advocating for. It moves at a lightning speed, so we as an association and a committee have to be nimble as well.

Should all physicians be active advocates? Why?

All physicians ARE advocates, whether they realize it or not. We all have uncommon influence where we work, teach, live, worship -- just by the nature of what we do. I think it's worthwhile for all physicians to hone that influence with special training (we did sign up for lifelong learning, after all) to formally advocate for issues that matter to them, however.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Figure out what you're passionate about, and just do it. You'll figure out the rest along the way!

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