Common Sense

An Interview with Congresswoman Dr. Kim Schrier

Issue: November/December 2021

Author: Lisa A. Moreno, MD MS MSCR FAAEM FIFEM
President, AAEM

Welcome to the next installment of Legislators in the News. In this issue, we interview Congresswoman Dr. Kim Schrier (D-WA, US House of Representatives) who is a board certified pediatrician and only one of twofemale physicians, and the only Democratic female physician, currently serving in Congress. The Congresswoman is a staunch advocate of children and public health and supports the role of women in public policy. She generously accepted AAEM’s invitation to do a presentation at our annual Health Policy in Emergency Medicine Day, held on October 19, 2021, and allowed me to interview her on that day.

Dr. Moreno: Dr. Schrier, was there a particular event or series of events that led you to change your primary service focus from medicine to politics, or was it a more organic transition?

Dr. Schrier: I’ll tell you very simply what it was: Trump got elected. I started to think about the implications ofthat election on my patients and their families. I realized that this election had the potential to havesignificant adverse impacts on the lives of children and on their health care. Many of our nation’s children were able to get quality healthcare under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). ACA’s exchanges have provided coverage for upwards of 10 million people annually. The Trump Administration reduced the support for advertising the program and reduced the annual enrollment period by almost half. There was a plan to exclude pre-existing conditions. This impacted me directly, as a Type 1 diabetic. It was disturbing to realize how many families and children would be left without medication, without care for congenital conditions, without the vaccines, and early detection that is facilitated by regular well child visits to the pediatrician that become impossible for those without insurance. Under that administration, immigrant children were not accorded the Child Tax Credit on the income tax returns of their parents, directly impacting the money available for food and housing. Public education was under attack during the campaign, with talk of issuing school credits that could be used at charter schools and religious schools, most of which are unaffordable or not accessible to our most vulnerable families. This plan threatened to decrease the support for public schools and increase the disparities in education that the poor are already experiencing. Even the general tenor of the conversation during that campaign was troubling. There was name calling, mocking of individuals with disabilities, disparagement of women. As a pediatrician, I know that the morale of children, of all individuals, is related to their mental health and to their ability to succeed. I felt it was my responsibility as a pediatrician and as a citizen to take a stand for the rights and wellbeing of children and families, and so I ran, and I won.

Dr. Moreno: Many women in leadership experience “the only woman in the room” or “the only woman at the table” phenomenon. How does this play out for you in Congress?

Dr. Schrier: Well, I certainly experienced this as an undergraduate. I was an astrophysics major and I wasoften the only woman in the room. But in Congress? Never! Remember, I was elected as part of the group ofDemocratic women who turned Congress. This is the Grand Sisterhood, and we are focusing on legislation that supports women in their roles as working mothers and supports children as the future leaders of our nation.

(Author’s note: Dr. Schrier joined the House of Representatives in a cohort of remarkable, record breakingwomen: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, the first Black to represent Massachusetts; Congresswoman Alexandria OcasioCortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress; Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress; and Congresswomen Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first Native American womenever electedto Congress.)

Dr. Moreno: How does your knowledge and experience as a physician empower you in your interactions with other lawmakers?

Dr. Schrier: Who better to take on information sharing than a physician in Congress! Everything I docarries additional weight because I’m a doctor. I can help set the trend for healthy behavior. Members watch to see, “Does Schrier replace her mask between sips and bites?” Other members even ask me to diagnose their kids; they seek my opinion about their children’s medical care. Concern for your children is bipartisan; it knows no bounds, and this fosters good relationships with other members, regardless of party or political stance. And MDs speak the same language, so it’s easy to gain bipartisanship with the other doctors serving in Congress. We understand the priorities. I worked with Republican Congressman John Joyce, MD (Pennsylvania), on strengthening the Vaccines for Children Program. This is a program that provides free vaccines for children whose families are unable to afford them and covers not just vaccines given at clinics or vaccine centers, but also in the pediatrician’s office. The VACCINES Act of 2019 is another example. This bill requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a national surveillance system to monitor vaccination rates, and to conduct a national campaign to increase awareness of the importance of vaccines. These are non-partisan issues that physicians agree on, and physicians are regarded as experts on these issues by other members of Congress. We were able to come together with the same passion as the antivaxxers bring to their movement. Some of the older physician members who saw the results of unvaccinated kids who got polio were able to share their experiences. This carries weight. You have actualphysicians who are your colleagues in Congress reporting on actual patient cases that are relevant to what we are working on in the House of Representatives.

I’ve also been able to help other members to make the connection between housing and health, a connection that is critical not just for kids, but for our constituents at every age. I can communicate with the Health and Human Services officials and with the White House regarding creative ideas to get kids vaccinated, such as school parties. Our expertise and experience are respected when health policy is under consideration.

Dr. Moreno: What do you see as a woman leader’s responsibility for mentorship and how do you choose who to mentor from the myriad requests you must receive?

Dr. Schrier: I share advice with everyone! But since there is only so much time available, the caliber of the candidate impacts the extent of the help I give. If a woman is running for office, this would be a strong consideration. Also, I want to be pretty certain that the people I am helping are intent on helping other people. I try to be visible in a way that will inspire girls to think of politics as a real career option. You give a press conference, or you speak to a student body, and you never know who will suddenly realize, “I could do that, too. That could be me up there someday.”

Dr. Moreno: From your vantage point as a physician legislator, what do you believe are the three most critical legislative issues that physicians need to focus on in the coming year?

Dr. Schrier: I would love to see physicians working with legislators to get home COVID test kits to be readily available to the public, but when I think of the three major legislative issues that practicing physicians should focus on, they would be these: 

  1. Universal access to affordable medical care
  2. Physician autonomy in practice, and this includes in prescribing and in the development of telemedicine services
  3. Fair reimbursement for all physicians. Physicians should not have to be responsible for fighting for reimbursement; they should be able to spend their time taking care of patients.

And while this is not necessarily a legislative issue, we all need to be concerned about the mental health of the nation’s physicians.

Dr. Moreno: Congresswoman Schrier, you are reflecting many of the issues that are core to the mission of AAEM. We support the right of every patient with an emergency condition to be cared for by a board certified emergency physician, and we hold that the physician, based on training and experience, is best positioned to make decisions regarding treatment within the privacy and sanctity of the physician-patient relationship, and that these decisions should not be legislated or controlled by non-physicians. The Academy has beenactive in the movement to de-stigmatize mental health disorders and to eliminate penalties for physicians who seek help for depression, burnout, and moral injury. We value your support of physician legislators such as yourself. Thank you so much for your support of our Health Policy in Emergency Medicine seminar and for taking the time to meet with me today.

Dr. Schrier: It was my pleasure. I certainly look forward to seeing healthier children and stronger families as a result of all of our combined efforts.

About Dr. Kim Schrier

Congresswoman Kim Schrier represents Washington’s 8th Congressional District, which includes much of King, Pierce, Kittitas, and Chelan Counties, and portions of Douglas County. Prior to being elected to Congress on November 6, 2018, Dr. Schrier spent her career as a pediatrician in Issaquah, working with children across the Puget Sound region and helping families navigate the health care system. In Congress, Dr. Schrier uses this expertise to inform her work on issues that improve the lives, health, and wellbeing of children.

As the first pediatrician in Congress, Dr. Schrier brings a critical voice to issues related to health care. Through her own experience as a patient living with Type 1 diabetes, Dr. Schrier understands the very real fear of health care costs and access for people living with pre-existing conditions. And as a physician who has worked in a broken health care system, Dr. Schrier understands what changes need to be made to make it work better for both patients and providers.

Dr. Schrier grew up the daughter of a public school teacher and an engineer. Her father, an engineer, instilled in Dr. Schrier a love for science, a passion that led Dr. Schrier to a degree in Astrophysics at U.C. Berkeley and then to medical school. Her mother taught her the value of education and teachers, and the importance of unions and collective bargaining. As a child, Dr. Schrier watched her mother’s union successfully negotiate for increased school funding, smaller class size, and improved benefits.

The product of public education from elementary through medical school, Dr. Schrier is passionate about helping every child thrive in school. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley Phi Beta Kappa, Dr. Schrier spent a year working at the EPA before attending medical school at U.C. Davis School of Medicine. She completed her residency at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. In 2013, Dr. Schrier was named Best Pediatrician in the Greater Seattle Area by Parents Map Magazine. Dr. Schrier’s experience as a pediatrician gives her a unique understanding of the needs and struggles facing 8th District families. She lives in Sammamish with her husband, David, and son, Sam.

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