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The ASH Congressional Fellowship is in its third consecutive term, and in 2020, Dr. Jerome Seid, a medical hematologist/oncologist at Great Lakes Cancer Management Specialists, sat down with ASH News Daily to share his expectations for this unique experience, which started with a virtual orientation in September. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the initial workload has been online, so Dr. Seid began journaling to be able to share his experiences in the future, and after years of practice has enjoyed having the opportunity to learn without the pressures of treating patients. He expressed excitement about what this experience may hold. “Exhilarated would be somewhat of an understatement of my reaction,” he said.

Heartened by his interest in patient advocacy and his efforts on behalf of his patients and practice over the past few years, Dr. Seid decided to apply for the fellowship. “I figured it couldn’t hurt to try; though truth be told, I did not expect to receive the fellowship because of my age,” he explained. “But I tend to be open to new ideas, and being in the latter phase of my career, I thought that the opportunity would be something that could parlay itself to a “second act” later on, so to speak.”

He also hopes to serve as an inspiration to his three children by showing them a willingness to get involved and take chances, regardless of age. On Capitol Hill, Dr. Seid wants to be a source of information about the effects that health policies have on patients and practitioners, regardless of intent. “As an experienced practitioner, I have seen and adapted to policy initiatives that have had profound impact on me over the years,” he said. “If providing my voice can help inform the discussion and debate, then I may have helped my patients on a larger scale than the exam room where I have been most effective and comfortable,” Dr. Seid added.

Dr. Seid has been advocating in Michigan as a board member and past president of the Michigan Society of Hematology and Oncology for several years. This gave him a chance to provide testimony on pieces of legislation on oral chemotherapy coverage parity and on insurance prior authorization in the Michigan legislature, and through the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Seid supported lobbying efforts in Washington, DC, in 2018 and 2019. “It was so inspiring and energizing. Being with a group so passionate can’t help but influence and encourage even the most unsure and apathetic among us,” he shared. Dr. Seid highlighted the power that hematologists and oncologists have to influence legislators in the arena of health care policy by sharing their experiences caring for some of the sickest and most vulnerable people in the United States. “Legislators want and need stories to create images that become indelible, and we can provide those,” he explained, especially as the profession faces criticism because of rising drug costs and barriers to access of care — issues sometimes out of health care providers’ control.

Dr. Seid hopes to share his expertise particularly during a time of uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. “COVID has impacted my practice in many ways as has been the case for all practitioners,” he said. “I have frequently asked myself the question of if, how, and when a patient needs to be seen in person. How much care can be deferred?” He explained that he often worries about the effects of the pandemic on his patients, who have come to rely heavily on him, not just in the clinical course of their disease: “…sometimes simply to provide reassurance that things with them are okay,” especially in hematologic diseases, where changes can occur without much warning. Currently, there is also the concern of risk to immunosuppressed patients.

With his placement in Sen. Jackie Rosen’s (D-NV) office, Dr. Seid hopes to lend his insight to help drive issues affecting the hematology community forward, always keeping an open mind. “Accepting the difference in our individual opinions about health care policy and trying to reach common ground (something that takes practice for many of us) will serve all of us well in this highly politicized climate,” he emphasized. Dr. Seid recognizes that the process to get involved might be slow, affected by a changing administration, but he is also prepared to “throw himself in” if necessary. “Fellows in the program come with a knowledge base, and scientific problem-solving skills that are different than those from legal or other backgrounds and are useful and influential,” he said, “including areas that cross over into social program policy.”

So while this Congressional Fellow experience has been slightly different from the others, since Dr. Seid wasn’t able to move to Washington immediately, or attend live orientation sessions, which created slight barriers to communication and networking, he is definitely looking to make the most out of his yearlong experience to help shape hematology and health care policy. To learn more about the ASH Congressional Fellowship, which exists with the support of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and to apply to a future term, visit www.hematology.org/advocacy/congressional-fellowship.

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