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CHWE Staff at Joe Neguse's office

Why We Go to Washington DC

minute read

Every February, delegates from NIOSH-funded centers across the United States gather in Washington DC to meet with staff from the offices of elected officials and provide updates on what we have done to support workers in their districts. Ultimately, we talk about how our work over the past year uses NIOSH funds to improve the health, safety, and well-being of workers. The interests of elected officials and their staff vary widely depending on their politics, the type of businesses operated within their districts, and many other crucial points.

These meetings usually take place in conference rooms, but it is not unheard of to be moved to a standing meeting in the middle of an old hallway. Often, they are quick, and we have only a few minutes to find one nugget of information that resonates with staffers whom we have just met.

Our center works on a wide variety of research and outreach projects and what is of interest in one office may not be helpful to another. Topics cover worker health issues ranging from mental health, heat stress, employees with cancer, climate change, drought, wildfires, code-switching, agriculture workers, and emergency preparedness. Each of these topics could lead to an in-depth conversation, but with limited time to get your point across, it can become a game to find one topic that leaves a lasting impression on the staffer. Our list of accomplishments can grow even longer if we are joined by university staff from other NIOSH-funded centers.

Offices in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona all found our work on drought and heat stress most relevant. We hope to remind these individuals that we are an available resource when they select initiatives they support. Many offices we met with were also interested in our occupational and environmental medicine residency program. I was joined in many of these meetings by trainee, Dr. Ana Paula de Oliveira Pereira, a surgeon in our program. One of the reasons she joined this field was to save lives preemptively rather than respond reactively. Over the years, we have noticed that sharing these personal perspectives through storytelling is the most impactful approach and makes staffers more likely to relay our visit to their elected official.

In addition to our visits on Capitol Hill, the university representatives also gather for meetings with one another. Here we focus on the three types of centers and how we can work together to increase our impact on worker health and safety across the nation. In what could be perceived as a competitive environment, between the centers, we discuss new projects, share resources, and identify ways to support one another.

This annual trip to Washington has quickly become one of my favorite parts of my job. Each year I leave invigorated after sharing information about the incredible work that my colleagues and I have accomplished with so many new people. It is energizing to connect and learn from others about how they are impacting worker health. It is through the continued support of NIOSH that we can achieve so much, and I hope that the time and effort we put into these meetings is one way that we can continue to prosper.

Featured Expert
Staff Mention

Cortney Cuff, MBA