Lily K. Jung, MD, chose to work for people with MS for an admittedly unscientific reason: she likes them.
“MS patients are usually hugely enthusiastic, they want to fight, they’re motivated, and it’s really motivating for me to want to become involved. I go to work and see some of my patients who can barely drag themselves out of bed, and they’re talking about what they can do to make their lives better, and that gives me the biggest kick. I love taking care of them.”
The Seattle neurologist extended her commitment from the clinic to the Capitol by joining the Greater Washington Chapter’s Government Affairs Committee and then the Society’s Federal Activism Council. She was so jazzed by the experience that she convinced her colleagues at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) that they should get more involved in the political process too.
In 2008 Jung was part of the task force that drafted a set of health care principles and presented them to the Society’s National Board of Directors. She predicted resistance from board members whose business interests or party loyalties may have put them at odds with an essentially liberal platform. Instead, the board approved the document unanimously.
“People set aside their individual differences and said, ‘Our main goal is to create a world where MS can be treated and contained and managed,’” Jung said. “It said to me: Here’s an organization that’s willing to step out in front of others and say what we believe in.”
If the National MS Society can take a bold stand, so can neurologists, she decided.
“It was a taboo subject to bring up and there was a lot of gnashing of teeth, but the Academy created a health care reform task force, of which I’m a member, so we’re trying to figure out what we need to do as a group similar to what the National MS Society has done,” she said.
“It’s a really exciting time and I’m lucky to be caught up in the middle of it.”
Jung’s views on activism do diverge from the Society’s in one important way: she advocates the use of political action committees, or PACs, to make campaign donations to friendly candidates.
“There are people who think that campaign donations are dirty, but this is the world of politics, and you either play the game or you don’t play,” she said.
“I as an individual have always supported the people I believe in, and I have no problem with my professional organization supporting the people who are doing good things for my profession. It’s made me realize that we as individuals can really make a difference. If you don’t speak up, someone else will, and they may be speaking up on behalf of something that you don’t believe in.”