Learning Advocacy: Final Day

January 8, 2010


Updated on January 12, 2010

By Glen R. Finney, MD, AAN.com Advocacy Editor

I am participating in the 2010 Donald M. Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum. —Glen R. Finney

Previous Posts

For the last day of the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum, the advocates worked with advisors and Academy staff to enter their Advocacy Forum action plans on AAN.com. This will solidify their plans for advancing issues over the year. For most advocates, this year will be the start of lifelong advocacy efforts. In addition, many will go on to create more action plans for other issues in neurology.

Neurology Networking

Beyond action planning, common interests brought many advocates and advisors together at the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum:

• Brett M. Kissela MD, FAAN, and I discussed our shared roles in residency education.
• I encouraged Florida resident Nicole A. Chiota, MD, to apply for the board of the Florida Society of Neurology.
• Alan H. Kurland, MD, Anil K. Nair, MD, and I discussed our shared interest in driving safety in the elderly.


At graduation, advocates received a Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum certificate and lapel pin in recognition of their participation in the program. In their comments, the advocates made several important points as they graduated from the Forum:

• Chiota, the advocate earliest in her training career as a junior resident at Mayo Clinic–Jacksonville, was the first to receive her certificate; her action plan is to increase awareness of traumatic brain injury in her community.
• Judy S. Fine-Edelstein, MD, who is working to increase neurology awareness, stated that the Advocacy Forum "energized" her for continued work in neurology.
• Anthony May, MD, plans to improve care for Parkinson's disease in central Pennsylvania; he noted that neurologists are traditionally considered a passive, "cerebral" group, but that doesn't prevent them from advocating for our patients and our profession.
• Jennifer M. Kwon, MD, a child neurologist from New York, called the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum "a civics lesson for the world."
• Lawrence W. Brown, MD, incoming president of the Child Neurology Foundation, wished the Advocacy Forum had been available when he was training thirty years ago.

All the advocates show great camaraderie at the ceremony, with some singing, some dancing, some crying—but whatever their reaction, all were moved by the Palatucci experience. Graduating advocate Lynne P. Taylor, MD, FAAN, who served with Donald M. Palatucci on the American Academy of Neurology Board of Directors, felt that Dr. Palatucci would be laughing with them if he were here.

Advisors were also honored for their service at this year's Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum. Elizabeth Minto, MD, became quite emotional while speaking at the graduation ceremony about her Palatucci experience.

Neurology on the Hill in March

Our next live Blog for Advocacy will begin March 9, 2010, at Neurology on the Hill.

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Learning Advocacy: Day 3

Advice on Action Planning

At breakfast, the two advocates I mentioned in yesterday's post ("Breakfast with the Advocates") asked me for advice on developing their action plans. One of these advocates, Vladimir Hachinski, MD, DSc, FAAN, is president of the World Federation of Neurology (WFN). He is seeking ways to increase collaboration between the WFN and AAN. We first identified a few key objectives for his plan and discussed his target audiences, then he set deadlines for achieving each goal. My other advocate, Alan H. Kurland, MD, wants to encourage safe driving among the elderly through improved education. Later today their actual advisor will join us, and I'll relinquish my temporary role—all the same, I enjoyed my impromptu advising time.

Introducing Grassroots Advocacy

The first session of the morning was led by Joe Gagen, Esq., who has been the grassroots advocacy trainer for the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum since the first forum took place in 2003. In this session, advocates learn how to communicate their issues to lawmakers effectively. Advocates role-play as legislators and constituents while the trainer leads them through teaching scenarios. They learn that expertise is not enough to get a message heard, and that building trust through multiple contacts—including office visits and letters to legislative offices—is very important. Advocates also learn that personal stories and anecdotes have more impact than facts alone.

Advisors Confer

By noon we were midway through the Advocacy Forum. This gives the advisors a chance to review the advocates' progress and evaluate this year's event as a whole. This is a forum tradition, allowing the advisors as a group to give feedback and recommendations for advocates, as well as improving the Advocacy Forum curriculum from year to year. Advisors also worked together to identify advocates who might benefit from a new feature of the forum: a training session on legislative testimony (see below).

Palatucci Grows Membership

Three of the accepted advocates at this year's Advocacy Forum joined the American Academy of Neurology solely to apply to the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum.

Practicing Legislative Visits

In the afternoon advocates engaged in mock legislative visits. Three neurologists were each assigned a priority issue important to neurology; it is their responsibility to present this issue to an advisor, who assumes the role of legislator. The objective of the exercise is for the advocates to learn to introduce themselves effectively to legislators, educate them on what neurologists do, and begin establishing relationships with the lawmakers and their staff. Throughout, emphasis was placed on delivering a message in a short time.

Legislative Testimony—A New Forum Feature

This new session included eight advocates who were given twenty minutes to learn their testimony before performing the exercise. Advisors and AAN staff, playing the role of legislative committee members, questioned the advocates on the issues. Terri Postma, MD, stated that this type of training would have been invaluable when she was an advocate. In the future this session will likely become a staple of the program.

Messages on Camera

For the final event for the afternoon, I interviewed advocates on camera about their Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum experience and their issues. While advocates praised many of the sessions at the Advocacy Forum, it was the camaraderie of fellow neurologists who are passionate about advocacy that was cited overwhelmingly as the best part of the Palatucci experience.

Advocates of the Year Announced

Another Palatucci first—an after-dinner dessert reception—honored this year's two Advocates of the Year. The first award went to Teshamae Monteith, MD, for her work advocating for headache research for veterans. Michael Amery, Esq., the Academy's legislative counsel, noted her persistence in pursuing her goal, which resulted in federal legislation supporting research for headache in traumatic brain injury. Monteith noted that she was not accepted the first time she applied to the Advocacy Forum, but her perseverance in reapplying won her a place at the forum; she attributed her success to the skills she learned at the forum. She also thanked the late Donald Palatucci, MD, FAAN, and the veterans. Her family was present for her award.

Mamta Bhushan Singh, MBBS, MD, DM, was announced as the winner of the second award, in recognition for her work providing epilepsy care to patients in rural India on a hospital train, the Lifeline Express. In an emotion-laden speech, Singh noted that the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum encouraged  her to believe in herself and offered support that made this work possible. She told of rural villages where people with epilepsy are stigmatized and suffer from a lack of medical treatment. Patients become like family, coming from miles away to meet Singh when she arrives. Her advocates looked on, beaming with pride for their advisor.

I think Program Director Melissa Larson said it best when she was overheard saying, "We made good choices."

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Learning Advocacy: Day 2

Addendum to Yesterday's Post

Last night I sat with advisor Mamta B. Singh, MBBS, MD, DM, who is attending the session for her work bringing epilepsy care to rural India on a hospital train. She is serving as an advisor to two new advocates this year: Jeffrey Bigelow, MD, who is seeking to increase access to epilepsy care in the developing world, and Saumya N. Gill, MD, who is planning to improve epilepsy education in the VA.

Breakfast with the Advocates

This morning, I had breakfast with 2008 Advocate of the Year Daniel C. Potts, MD, who is serving as faculty at the 2010 Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum. Joining us were the two advocates he is advising: Alan H. Kurland, MD, whose plans focus on elderly driving safety assessment and education, as well as anti-epileptic drug generic substitution, and Vladimir Hachinski, MD, DSc, FAAN, who hopes to increase collaboration between the World Federation of Neurology and the American Academy of Neurology.

Meeting the Faculty

During the morning session we heard from the four faculty members for the forum. Emcee and faculty member Elaine C. Jones, MD, FAAN, described her advocacy successes, but underscored her remarks by stating that her first advocacy goal—to unite the two neurology societies in her state—has yet to be achieved. But she has made progress, with the two state societies holding their first joint conference this year. Faculty member Elizabeth Minto, MD, compared advocacy to an elephant: "an animal you don't want to get behind, don't want to get in front of, but that you want to ride."

Daniel Potts shared the story of his father, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. This experience motivated Potts to become an advocate.

Terri Postma, MD, the Academy's most recent Kenneth Viste Health Policy Fellow, spoke of her own learning experiences as a former Advocacy Forum graduate and as an advocate on Capitol Hill.

Action Planning

For the first advisor-advocate action planning session, all the participants are working diligently on their areas of interest in neurology advocacy. Seasoned advisors guide advocates to identify the elements of an action plan by asking:

  • What is your issue?
  • Why did you choose this issue?
  • What objectives do you hope to achieve?
  • What actions should be taken?
  • Who are the target audiences?
  • What resources are needed?
  • How can you measure your success?
  • What target dates for progress have you set?

Learning to Interview

During this breakout session, neurology advocates learn how to be effective in a media interview. Advocates are taught to focus on the key points of their issue, remember to identify who they are, know their audience, and anticipate questions. Other tips include choosing proper attire for the interview, making eye contact with the interviewer, speaking in short sentences, and restating key points.

Practicing Sound Bites

Advocates learn how to deliver a short message encapsulating their issue in 10 seconds. Every neurologist has two rounds to present their "sound bite" on video. They see their first effort played back with advisors and faculty who give recommendations for fine-tuning their delivery; advocates are then given a second opportunity on-camera and the improvements are clear.

Social Media

This year's forum includes a session on the power of social media in advocacy. The advocates are reviewing social media sites and environments, such as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Second Life, and Twitter. With Facebook used as an example, the advocates learn how to create a "fan page" for use in publicizing their issues.

Day Two Ends

While the official work day ended for the advisors and advocates at 5 p.m. today, many advisors and advocates will continue networking and developing action plans this evening. After the day ends, the Academy staff prepares for the sessions for Day 3 of the Advocacy Forum.

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Learning Advocacy: Day 1


The 2010 Donald M. Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum is located at the W Resort on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. The comfortable environment immerses neurologists in the advocacy learning process that will take place over the next four days.

Educating the Educators

AAN members who graduated from the Advocacy Forum in the past apply competitively to return to the Forum as advisors, charged with mentoring the new cadre of neurologists who will train as advocates. This year the fifteen advisors start the day before the advocates arrive, undergoing a training session led by program manager Melissa Larson of the Academy's Center for Health Policy. Advisors are assigned to two advocates and trained to prepare and shepherd their advocates through the training program. A highlight of the advisor training program is teaching the incoming advocates to create an action plan that adheres to S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  • Specific—Be as specific as possible.
  • Measurable—Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress towards each goal.
  • Attainable—Assess the possibility of making your most important goals come true.
  • Realistic—Create an objective towards which you are willing and able to work towards.
  • Timely—Ground your goals within a realistic time frame.

Elaine C. Jones, MD, FAAN, the 2010 Emcee, is very excited about this year's advisors, and the depth and breadth of experience they bring to the 2010 Advocacy Forum.

Advocates Arrive

Check-in for our neurologists is 4:30 p.m., but several arrive early, eager to begin. They begin their Advocacy Forum experience with picture portraits and a reception introducing the faculty, staff, and advocates themselves.

Donald Palatucci Remembered

As part of the reception orientation, Cathy Rydell, CEO of the Academy, spoke about her memories of meeting Donald Palatucci, MD, FAAN and the impact he had on neurology advocacy before his death. It was a reminder of the legacy advocates are to live up to. Cathy Rydell also noted that over 30 percent of Advocacy Forum graduates have gone on to hold leadership positions in the Academy, and challenged this class to see 75 percent become active in Academy leadership.

A Challenge Issued

The last message of the night was delivered by program director Melissa Larson, who encouraged the new neurology advocates to think big and gave this advice:

  • Shift your mindset
  • Get outside your comfort zone
  • You are all here for a reason
  • You will all be great advocates

Group Activities Begins

As the culmination of the first night of the forum, the advisors and advocates posed for group pictures, which will be used to promote future forums, and was the first group activity in a weekend of camaraderie.

Read the preliminary article in this series, "Preparing for Palatucci."

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Author Disclosure

Within the past year Dr. Finney received research support from Novartis, for work conduced as a Site Principal Investigator for a study of the Exelon patch in Alzheimer's disease participants. He serves as Associate Editor for Advocacy on AAN.com.