Since the election, our Reproductive Health Access Network has grown by over 300 people and we’ve seen an uptick in the number of clinicians who want to engage in clinical advocacy now more than ever. This month, we are highlighting Dr. Sharon Liner, a family planning and abortion provider in Ohio. In addition to providing family planning and abortion services to her patients, Dr. Liner is becoming a strong clinical advocate and leader within her community and nationally.
Immediately after graduating from her family medicine residency program, Dr. Liner took a job at the local Planned Parenthood. Since then, most of her practice has been in family planning and abortion care. In addition to providing patients with these critical services, Dr. Liner is also a strong advocate for accessible, safe, and comprehensive reproductive health care for all.
Dr. Liner became more outspoken after working with patients for many years and understanding the difficulties they had to face. “You see a lot of organizations and programs that encourage patients to speak out and tell their stories, but it can be really difficult for our patients to do this- there’s stigma and it’s very personal.” After attending a Doctors for America Meeting, Dr. Liner realized that she could use her clinical experience to speak up and advocate for her patients. As a physician, she learned that her voice holds power in both the public eye and at the legislative/government level. Last year, Dr. Liner participated in Physicians for Reproductive Health’s Leadership Training Academy, which helped her hone her skills as an advocate.
When asked if she has any advice for clinicians looking to amp up their advocacy efforts, Dr. Liner says that preparation is key to good communication. Being prepared and knowledgeable about the issues is essential for effective storytelling. It’s also important to understand that “advocacy” can take on many forms. In addition to front-facing activities such as writing letters to the editor, publishing online articles, testifying, and lobbying, advocacy also takes place within professional organizations and in the provider community. For Dr. Liner, even speaking about her work with colleagues across medical disciplines has helped her build bridges; she’s found that people are actually very supportive and understand how important it is for patients to have access to family planning and abortion services.
It may feel difficult to find a starting point when thinking about clinical advocacy, especially since “advocacy” is a broad term and includes such a variety of activities. Per Dr. Liner, becoming a clinical advocate can be a gradual process, and it’s okay to start small. For example, engaging in discussions with your medical colleagues about your work is a significant step towards developing your skills and building supportive networks. Become more involved in your hospital board, professional organizations (such as the American Academy for Family Physicians), and community groups. “Learn to use all of the resources at hand, and help make sure that we [as clinicians] don’t remain a silent majority when it comes to women having the health care access that they need, when they need it.”