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 Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia
By Saundra Sorensen For The Skanner News
Published: 05 September 2019

The Oregon Medical Association’s annual conference later this month will focus on the community leadership role of health care providers.

The Oregon Medical Association is the state's largest professional society open to both medical professionals and medical students, with a focus on policy, advocacy, and community-building in the field.

“Information and knowledge is only as good as it is useful,” OMA conference speaker Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia told The Skanner. “Physicians go through 18 years of training on average, and you amass so much knowledge. What you have to do is to be responsible with it, to share it in a way that inspires others to use it, and to effectively impact change.”

Moreland-Capuia is the executive director of the Avel Gordly Center for Healing at Oregon Health & Science University, and an assistant professor of psychiatry at OHSU's School of Medicine. She will address "Using Your Voice and Agency to Impact Systems and Policies" at the upcoming conference.

Moreland-Capuia has had a longtime interest in applying healthcare policy to the community at large. In high school she helped organize the Northeast Community Court Project, working with former district attorney Mike Schrunk to divert those who had committed low-level misdemeanors away from jail, and to connect them with social services. She said the experience strengthened her belief that “accountability and humanity need not be in direct opposition to each other.”

Later, as a practitioner, Moreland-Capuia realized, “I need to have this world change so it supports the health of my patients.”

“I started to use my training on the brain and how it develops, how stress and trauma and lack of nutrition, and how racism, impacts development,” Moreland-Capuia said. “I said, ‘I’m going to take that and start educating the masses.’”

That has meant talking to policymakers about brain development and culpability, most recently through her testimony before the House Committee on the Judiciary in support of SB 1008, an omnibus bill addressing substantial juvenile justice system reforms in Oregon.

Moreland-Capuia says she will be participating in a conference this December to educate district attorneys and public defenders about the implications of the bill, and the research that went into crafting it.

“It started from the legislature saying, ‘We may not all get racism.’ What folks can understand are what I call points of convergence. The way the brain develops, there are disruptive processes. Essentially what we have are systems -- like healthcare, criminal justice -- that use what I call ‘top brain mandates.’ But when you operate from ‘bottom brain’ surviving, how do you bridge the gap in a system? When we talk about this title for OMA, that’s what it’s all about: How we bridge that gap? How do I use my knowledge and training to train others so they can effectively look at policies, practices, and narratives, to optimally serve people?”

The one-day event will also feature a keynote address from Dr. Kevin Pho called "Connect and Be Heard: Make a Difference in Healthcare with Social Media." Pho is an internal medicine physician who founded KevinPhoMD.com in 2004 as a platform for medical practitioners to share their experiences, and to provide insight into the American healthcare system.

American Medical Association president Dr. Patrice Harris will speak on "Physician Leadership and the Urgency of the Moment in Medicine." A practicing psychiatrist based in Atlanta, Harris has focused much of her career on county-level efforts to integrate behavioral health, public health, and primary care.

The conference will also include four breakout sessions: "The Impact of Homelessness on Health," moderated by OHSU Dean Dr. David Bansberg; "What You Can Do to Prepare for Value-Based Care," moderated by Dr. Evan Saulino; "Increasing Vaccination Rates in an Era of Vaccine Hesitancy," featuring Dr. Gretchen LaSalle; and "Leadership through Advocacy," featuring Courtni Dresser, OMA's director of government relations.

Moreland-Capuia emphasized the physician’s role as community leader.

“Physicians are put in a box. I just heard someone tell a surgeon to stay in his lane when he was talking about gun control. But we are community. I would say the healthcare provider, the clinic, is one place where you see everything. Everyone from every experience, every walk of life, comes there for healing and support. To the extent the healthcare provider understands the condition folks are forced to live in, and the system they're operating in, is how we can help people be well, do well, and navigate that system. Using our knowledge and our sense of agency for good is a holistic approach that supports longstanding, sustained change over time.”

 The 2019 OMA Annual Conference will be held Sept. 28, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Hilton Portland Downtown, 921 S.W. 6th Ave. Registration is $25-175. For more information and to register, visit theoma.org/conference.

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