Washington Scene: Cardiothoracic Surgeons Can—and Should—Lead Change in Washington

Please note: At press time, CMS had just released its proposed decision memo regarding transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). The proposal was more flexible than what STS, AATS, ACC, and SCAI had jointly recommended. The societies are working on comments that will be submitted on behalf of their respective members.


Alan M. Speir, MD, Chair of the STS-PAC Board of Advisors (left) and 2018-2019 STS President Keith S. Naunheim, MD (right) presented Dr. Headrick with the Key Contact of the Year award at the STS-PAC Reception.

STS News, Spring 2019 — Rob Headrick, MD, MBA was inspired to make the leap from the operating room to Capitol Hill so that he could advocate for change that would benefit cardiothoracic surgeons and their patients.

Dr. Headrick’s involvement with grassroots advocacy began after he received the STS/American College of Surgeons Health Policy Scholarship in 2017, which enabled him to attend the Executive Leadership Program in Health Policy and Management at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“The program brought clarity to how our country’s chaotic system was formed and the importance of advocacy to fix what’s broken,” Dr. Headrick said. “Our voices can’t be heard if we don’t get out of the operating room. My experience with the health policy scholarship empowered me to give advocacy a try.”

Dr. Headrick, who is Chief of Thoracic Surgery at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently received the Society’s Key Contact of the Year Award for his extraordinary efforts in advocating for the specialty.

He attended the 2018 STS Legislative Fly-In in Washington, DC, and met with legislators and staff members from nine Congressional offices, including Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN). He even was able to visit the House floor and take a private tour of the Capitol arranged by Rep. Fleischmann.

“Our voices can’t be heard if we don’t get out of the operating room.”

Rob Headrick, MD, MBA

“Dr. Headrick is truly a pioneer in the medical field,” said Congressman Fleischmann. “I had the privilege of first meeting Dr. Headrick in 2018 and his advocacy on behalf of thoracic surgeons and individuals suffering from lung cancer has been a driving force for increased research funding. We are lucky to have a medical professional of such a high caliber from East Tennessee, and I thank Dr. Headrick for all he has done to increase awareness, spark advocacy, and ultimately save lives.”

“Our ‘asks’ were well-received by both Democrats and Republicans,” Dr. Headrick said. “The legislators were sincerely interested in what we had to say.”

After attending the Fly-In, he urged his hometown newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, to write a story on the Women and Lung Cancer Research and Preventive Services Act. After the story was published, Rep. Fleischmann became a cosponsor of the legislation.

"Lung cancer is rampant in my community, especially among female nonsmokers,” Dr. Headrick said. “We must understand why and how to screen these individuals.”

After initially meeting with Rep. Fleischmann in Washington, Dr. Headrick further developed the relationship by hosting the Congressman at his institution in March. Rep. Fleischmann met with hospital team members and lung cancer patients, as well as toured the hospital’s new mobile lung screening bus.

“Surgeons’ problem-solving skills are needed in Washington and our state governments,” Dr. Headrick said. “Change is coming and STS should be leading that change.”

To learn more about how you can become involved in STS advocacy efforts, visit sts.org/advocacy or contact the STS Government Relations office at advocacy@sts.org.