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Focus on a Provider: Dr. Zahra Virani



Dr. Rupa Natarajan, Dr. Zahra Virani, and Dr. Sara Miller in front of the New York State Capital Building.

 Zahra Virani is one of RHAP’s Reproductive Health and Advocacy Fellows for 2014-2015. We recently asked her about her experience in reproductive health, family medicine, and advocacy with Physicians for Reproductive Health’s Leadership Training Academy.

“As a resident I was not able to get the exposure to advocacy that I would have liked. As a Reproductive Health and Advocacy Fellow, in addition to just providing patient care I learned to be an advocate for my patients. Advocacy is a central part of the program. In order to develop my advocacy skills I am participating in Physicians for Reproductive Health’s Leadership Training Academy (LTA) during my fellowship year. Whether meeting with members of Congress in D.C., or my state assembly member in Albany, New York, it has been fantastic to have that opportunity to advocate for my patients.

For my first experience with the LTA, I went to DC and received training on how to be an effective advocate, how to speak with elected officials, and how to answer difficult questions. Together with a small group of doctors, I met with members of Congress to discuss two reproductive health-related bills. We urged legislators to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant workers so that no woman has to choose between a healthy pregnancy and her job. We also spoke to lawmakers about why reproductive health care providers oppose legislation that would take away insurance coverage for abortion care from millions of women. Being on Capitol Hill and speaking with lawmakers and their staff about the impact these reproductive health bills would have on my patients made me realize the importance and power of being an advocate.

More recently, I went to Albany for a lobby day where I was able to meet my assembly member, Rebecca Seawright. We talked with our state representatives about the importance of insurance coverage for pregnant women and urged them to pass a law to add pregnancy to the list of qualifying events, including marriage and the birth of a child, that allow New York women to enroll in health insurance outside of the normal enrollment period. We were able to meet with Assembly Member Seawright and go to the floor of the Assembly to watch members vote on important public health legislation. On June 17, just a few weeks after our lobby day, the Senate and the Assembly passed S5972 making New York the first in the nation to pass legislation like this and remove barriers to necessary prenatal care.

As a primary care clinician you are advocating for your patients in the work you do everyday. However, it is one thing to provide health care and another thing entirely to change laws that affect health care. Through legal advocacy, you are actively creating change that will be a huge help for your patients and will help you deliver better care. Now that I have developed the skill set to advocate for my patients in Albany and in D.C., I feel confident I’ll be involved in advocacy throughout my career.”

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