When Dr. Bill Frist joined the United States Senate in 1995, he became the first physician elected to the position since 1928. Healthcare is a controversial issue in American politics, so why aren't more physicians involved in policy? Dr. Oz and Dr. Frist tackle that topic, as well as the possibility of medicine as a global peacemaker.
While Dr. Frist enjoyed working one-on-one with patients, he says a larger concern with the health of the country led him to run for office. He says rather than being a lifetime politician, he wanted to fill the role of the citizen legislator—someone who takes on-the-job experiences to Washington, applies them to government and eventually returns home to their original job. "We need more politicians like that," Dr. Frist says.
Dr. Frist says the lack of instant feedback and a cynicism about government keep many physicians out of public service today. Doctors, especially surgeons, see the results of their efforts very quickly, whereas the outcome of legislation can take years to reveal itself, he says. In addition, Dr. Frist says that a doctor who is secure and respected in his community may have difficulty leaving his position for a place like Washington, which is perceived by some to be a bitter and partisan world. For Dr. Frist, though, making that leap was easy. "Politics is a noble profession that can affect the lives of millions of people and not just your community," he says. "You can be successful and not lose your values or sacrifice your family or your principles. It may be tough, but it can be done."
Dr. Frist says he would like to see more physicians in policy-making roles to help spread the idea of medical diplomacy. Through his own yearly medical missions in Africa, he has seen the trust that's being built between doctors and patients change the way people live. "That trust cuts through rhetoric, hatred and philosophy," Dr. Frist says. "It comes right at the crux of oneness and humanity."
To boost the global community's opinion of the United States, Dr. Frist says that healthcare should become a more important part of our foreign aid. "If we inject medicine, health, understanding and trust as a formal part of our public diplomacy—which it hasn't been—then we can inject that respect, that love of freedom and democracy in a way that's not being currently utilized," he says.