The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way business is conducted in Washington, DC. Most House and Senate offices remain closed to the public because of social distancing protocols, and as with many offices across the country, much of the work of Congress has moved online. To learn more about life on the Hill in this unusual time, The Hematologist spoke with ASH’s current congressional fellow, Dr. Jerome Seid, who is working in the office of Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV).
ASH typically selects one hematologist to serve as a fellow on Capitol Hill from a pool of diverse applicants. Once selected, they receive an intensive two-week orientation on the legislative process conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The fellow is assigned to work in a House or Senate office where they then share their expertise as a hematologist to help shape policy in Washington. The ASH Congressional Fellowship is a great opportunity for hematologists at any stage of their career. Dr. Seid noted that he initially did not expect to be considered for the fellowship because of his age, but the fact is that people of all ages and levels of experience are welcome to apply. Working within Congress for a year gives fellows a chance to gain new insights and impart their knowledge of health care and research in the policy-making process.
Before becoming the newest ASH Congressional Fellow, Dr. Seid managed his own practice in Michigan for several years. When asked what prompted him to apply for the fellowship, he said, “I had been increasingly involved in patient advocacy issues in Michigan and figured that an experience at the federal level might teach me more from an insider’s viewpoint.” He also hoped that participating in the fellowship would help him bring a new perspective to his practice. “I was feeling somewhat burned out and thought this type of experience would be fun, refreshing, and allow me to return in a year to my practice, energized,” he explained. “It did not take long for the burnout feeling to dissipate!”
Traditionally, fellows would be required to relocate to Washington, DC, to live and work, but due to the pandemic, most House and Senate offices have closed and are conducting business remotely. Dr. Seid began his fellowship last September and has yet to meet any of his new colleagues in person or set foot inside the Capitol, but his time as a fellow has been anything but boring. Dr. Seid explained that the Senator maintains a full schedule and noted how the busy calendar affects his day-to-day work. “It is a very busy office with many people working on several portfolios, as the senator is currently serving on six committees. The pace can be fast, and I have learned to pivot and address issues quickly if a hearing is suddenly scheduled or a meeting will take place and my input is needed for preparing the senator.”
Dr. Seid commented on the challenges and opportunities of advocacy when face-to-face meetings are no longer available. “Advocacy during the pandemic has been a challenge in ways that are not surprising — nuanced discussions, facial expressions, handshakes, and the traditional ‘coffee’ over which ideas and positions are shared are more difficult.” But there are some openings that were not there before. For example, he noted that “getting an ‘audience’ is easier due to the convenience of logging on to Zoom or one of the many platforms we now have. I am still of the opinion that one’s voice can be heard in many ways, including in writing, and so I have not seen a diminution of advocacy.”
Dr. Seid emphasized that any form of outreach is helpful: “The ability to bring true stories to the offices is a power we have [as hematologists], and these do have an impact. Every week Sen. Rosen’s office reviews the letters and calls that are received and tallies them and responds, so communicating with calls and letters is important. Nowadays, societies like ASH make this very easy with template letters, and I always respond when I get them.”
When asked how he plans to stay involved in advocacy once his fellowship has ended, Dr. Seid said, “I intend to offer my expertise and continue dialogue with Sen. Rosen and her staff since our interests are aligned. I still have lots of enthusiasm and energy, so why not remain involved?”
If you are interested in letting your voice be heard, ASH staff can help schedule virtual meetings with your elected officials. You can also reach out to your representatives’ offices by sending an email or a tweet to let them know how you feel on a particular issue. To learn more about ASH advocacy and the Grassroots Network, visit the ASH Advocacy Center at www.hematology.org/Advocacy. Members of the ASH Grassroots Network receive action alerts and access to the monthly Advocacy Update with news and information on events happening in Washington that have an impact on hematology. The ASH Advocacy Center has also been recently upgraded with new capabilities such as enhanced email outreach and Twitter functionality to make it simple to communicate with your members of Congress. To learn more about the ASH Congressional Fellowship and how to apply, visit www.hematology.org/advocacy/congressional-fellowship.