by Patrick White

Patrick White is a Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and AAHPM’s delegate to the American Medical Association (AMA) Resident and Fellow Section.

Attending the American Medical Association (AMA) Interim Meeting in New Orleans was an amazing experience. From my first alligator sausage through our last meeting with the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, it was certainly one of the most entertaining and educational weeks of my fellowship. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the issues we discussed are relevant to my future career: from advocating for standardized advanced directive forms within states, to addressing shortages of crucial medications like morphine, to finding ways to reduce prescription drug abuse/misuse/diversion.

I was struck by how both my peers and the senior AMA delegates were interested in learning about how the hospice and palliative care community viewed the impact of pending legislation. I watched our own Chad Kollas chair the Pain and Palliative Medicine Specialty Section Council – a group encompassing 9 specialty organizations from addiction medicine to clinical oncology – advocating our positions on issues while building relationships with related specialties to further advance palliative medicine. The greatest highlight came when Jacqueline Kocinski, AAHPM Director of Health Policy and Government Relations, obtained a meeting with Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He was in New Orleans to address the AMA as part of a panel discussing prescription drug abuse. Our delegation discussed the unique concerns of palliative care and hospice physicians who frequently need to obtain schedule II opioids emergently for patients who are in acute pain crisis. Director Kerlikowske shared that he wanted additional input from AAHPM as new initiatives designed to stem the tide of opioid addiction and death move forward, helping to preserve our timely access to vital pain medications.

Observing the impact of these small meetings made me realize just what a huge impact groups like the AAHPM and AMA can have in shaping new health care policy. With so many crucial issues facing both palliative care and medicine as a whole, it is both an exciting and challenging time to be involved. I am grateful for the opportunity to see first-hand just how effective our voice can be and to work with people dedicated to advancing palliative medicine.