The Hematologist

July-August 2018, Volume 15, Issue 4

Being the Change We Want to See in the World

Alexis Thompson, MD, MPH Sarah and A. Watson Armour Chair in Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, Hematology Section Head; Professor of Pediatrics
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL

Published on: July 10, 2018

Having recently returned from the yearly Executive Committee Spring Retreat and Highlights of ASH meetings, I am travel-weary but nonetheless inspired by the passion and extraordinary brainpower possessed by so many in our community. From progress in acute leukemia studies in Latin America to newer immunotherapies and genome editing, the remarkable progress in the full spectrum of conditions that we collectively study and treat is undeniable. Increasingly, our basic and clinical research contributions are resonating in other areas of medicine. Yet to excel in our field today and meet the increasing demands of clinical practice, some of us have become fairly narrow in our focus — almost “sub-subspecialized.” My recent travels with and on behalf of our global Society have led me to think that although this may be unavoidable, we must strive to avoid myopia in our daily lives, or limit the worldview of ASH.

Advocacy is a fundamental component of the Society. As ASH President, I am proud and humbled to represent you whenever I can to deliver our message and effect change where needed, as countless individual hematologists have done over the years. They have written their congressional representatives, volunteered on committees and task forces, and otherwise made their voices heard at ASH and in the general sphere. The ASH Advocacy Leadership Institute, which just selected its newest group of hematologists, provides additional opportunities for members to become even more effective as spokespersons and champions.

ASH has made policy statements and expanded programs that may not affect us immediately, but nevertheless require action. The opioid epidemic has been an alarmingly destructive force. Even if not personally impacted by this scourge, we all appreciate the toll it is taking. The urgency to address the problem has prompted broad legislation and regulations to limit access to classes of medications that inadvertently may compromise the ability of patients with hematologic malignancies and blood disorders such as hemophilia and sickle cell disease, who have legitimate need for pain medication, to receive timely appropriate care. ASH is engaging with federal agencies and Congress on this issue to advocate for patients and providers.

Finally, there are times when advocacy may have little to do with our specialty but instead speaks to our sensibilities and decency. My personal view as a citizen, a pediatrician, and a person of faith is that the current plight of children on the U.S. southern border who have been forcibly separated from their parents is inhumane and deplorable. Some of the rhetoric surrounding these actions is dangerously reminiscent of campaigns from a dark past that ultimately lead to genocide, chattel slavery, and other atrocities. Many of these past horrors occurred while those who saw no direct link to their own circumstances remained silent. I applaud colleagues in organizations such as the American Medical Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Medical Association for their strong statements on the tremendous harm to children, both immediate and long-term, resulting from official actions by our government. In my opinion, what we have been witnessing must not only be condemned, it must be stopped.

I appreciate my colleagues and ASH members who are engaged and outspoken regionally and locally to make a difference. I remain heartened and in fact energized by the strides we are making and by the courage ASH leadership has shown in taking on challenges with ambitious and at times audacious initiatives. Some steps may be incremental, others transformational. ASH will continue to advocate for programs and policies that will enable us to deliver on our promise to those who depend on us most — our patients and their families.

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