When you hear the word "champion," what comes to mind? Is it a specific person? An event? Or is there some other term you associate with it - something such as defender or advocate?

Whether you're a fervent or slightly more disengaged follower of the news, you've likely recognized that the political climate--particularly the polarization--of this country isn't getting any better; in fact, it's getting worse. This environment of political division and financial hardship has not only made it difficult for policymakers to compromise, but it has resulted in a "cut" mentality, even when those cuts threaten critical federal programs that actually contribute to the financial security of our nation.

Over the years, regardless of how or why the political realm has changed, there is one fundamental component of our government system that has remained unchanged: Members of Congress are elected to serve as the voice of the people.

Congress has a responsibility to (and wants to) hear from its constituents, but for policymakers to fulfill their role, it is necessary that constituents engage in a dialogue about the issues they find most important. Rather than thinking about this as "advocacy," think about it like this: Just as every sporting event must have a champion, so must every field.

When I asked what you associate with the word "champion," there are many words, names, or images that may have surfaced. For many, it is associated with competition and victory, and in many ways that's true; champions are willing to engage in pursuit of a goal.

Health services research needs champions, too, now more than ever.

As the professional society for the field, AcademyHealth is doing its best to serve in that role, but despite our best efforts, we can't affect policy change without your help. Organizations, associations, and professional societies each play a part in shedding light on important issues, but at the end of the day, members of Congress want to hear from the people back home. We need champions to speak out for what they believe - to tell their stories, to convey the significance of their work, to defend the data and tools being produced at various research institutions, and to justify the contributions of health services research as promoting our country's viability. Becoming a champion for the field doesn't take much more than vouching for our field in an era of cuts. Ultimately, we hope our champions will become part of a collective effort to educate members of Congress, whether that's informing them about what health services research is and who the major players are or enlightening them about the many things this research can reveal.

While we in the field may recognize the immense value of federal health research agencies and programs, many of our elected officials don't understand their necessity and nuances. They, too, must appreciate the role of each agency and its area of jurisdiction.

If the champions of health services research don't speak out, loudly, for the field and its federal research entities and institutions, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and others, then we will be lucky to maintain the status quo. In tight financial times, members of Congress are trying to find extra dollars wherever possible. If they don't realize their constituents care about these agencies and their work, how can they possibly be expected to defend them? Complacency is perilous in this environment.

Enter our champions.

All it takes is scheduling a meeting with a congressional staffer, tweeting at your representative, or attending a town hall meeting with your member of Congress - stating that you care about health services research and the importance of the federal government funding it. (Without federal funding, it is likely that many of the tools, datasets, and resources we depend on for our work would cease to exist.) Make the outreach personal by tying in your work or providing an example of how health services research has impacted your life, if you're able to do so. You don't have to come to D.C. for this - connect by email or in person in your home state.

AcademyHealth has several resources that you can use in your personal and organizational efforts, and we will continue to stand alongside you in this effort to preserve federal investments in this field. We know from previous experience that persistence has an impact, so it's critical that we continue to reinforce this message. Please let us know how we can help.

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