Idaho Psychologist lends her voice to Rally for Medical Research
My name is Maria Wong, and I am a professor of Psychology at Idaho State University. On September 16-17, 2015, I participated in the Rally for Medical Research in Washington, DC. The Rally is a large advocacy event in which over 300 individuals and organizations go to Capitol Hill and meet with their Senators and Representatives to advocate for increased federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Over the summer, I was contacted by the American Psychological Association (APA) Science Government Relations Office to take part in the Rally as their guest because I am an NIH funded behavioral scientist. APA asked me if I would be interested in meeting with my Idaho Members of Congress to discuss my NIH funded research projects on risk and protective factors of substance abuse in youth.
In order to prepare for the Rally, I spoke with the APA Science Government Relations Office and participated in an informational webinar organized by the Rally coordinators before the trip. I also wrote a one-pager briefing sheet about my research to hand out during our congressional meetings. Furthermore, on September 16, the day before the Rally Hill Day, I attended another training session as well as an evening reception at which I listened to speeches by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, several Senators, as well as Rally organizers. They all spoke about the importance of medical research in the face of an NIH budget that has failed to keep pace with inflation and has resulted in fewer and fewer strong research proposals getting funded. I also listened to patients whose health and well-being were directly affected by cutting-edge NIH health research. I was moved by their life circumstances and encouraged by the fact that their quality of life was positively influenced through federal funding at NIH. I became even more convinced about the importance of health research and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.
On September 17, the Rally for Medical Research Hill Day, I met with my two Idaho Senators, Sen. Jim Risch and Sen. Mike Crapo, and my congressman, Rep. Mike Simpson, as well as their staffers. I was accompanied by APA Science Government Relations Office staff member. I had the chance to speak about my research on sleep problems and substance use, and how without NIH funding, I would never be able to collect longitudinal polysomnography (sleep EEG) and actigraphy data. I also delivered the Rally message, asking the Members of Congress to provide robust, sustainable, and predictable funding increases to NIH in the next fiscal year and beyond.
All of the Members stated their support for NIH research, but noted the challenges of the current budget environment as well as the necessity to control spending. When I mentioned that the state of Idaho received little NIH funding and no increases to the budget would ultimately mean fewer Idaho researchers getting federal support, there was agreement. It is then when I felt that I actually made my point.
This trip was really an eye opener for me. I learned the importance of advocacy work. I learned to talk as a constituent to my elected officials about psychological science and my research in ways that are understandable. I also learned that behavioral scientists could play an important role in advocacy for medical research. I do not know if these meetings will make a difference in future NIH funding. As I learned it is not always the individual meetings, but the “chorus” of meetings by Rally participants and other likeminded groups who together can make a difference.
I thank APA for making this trip possible. I strongly encourage my fellow psychological scientists to take part in similar advocacy opportunities should APA contact you in the future.