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‘Dr. of the day’ checks up on lawmakers, learns to legislate

Philip Keene

Philip Keen

Semi-retired medical examiner Philip Keen doesn’t usually respond to house calls. But when the House – or the Senate – calls, the pathologist shows up at the Capitol.

Keen is one of the more than 60 doctors, medical residents and medical students who participated in the “Doctor of the Day” program at the Arizona Legislature during the 2018 session.

The program, sponsored by the Arizona Medical Association, provides doctors with the opportunity to meet with lawmakers and learn more about the legislative process. Doctors also provide health care services to lawmakers and staff because there isn’t a doctor on staff.

Keen, the former Maricopa County chief medical examiner, said he has been involved with the medical association for more than 40 years and has served as doctor of the day on several occasions over the past decades.

He said those who know him and his line of work are often surprised to see him at the House.

“I showed up one day and one of the security guards goes, ‘You brought a medical examiner to the Legislature? You examine the dead, what are you doing here?’ He’d been to autopsies with me,” he said.

While he mostly deals with dead bodies in his line of work, Keen said participating in the program has provided him with the chance to testify before legislative committees, educate lawmakers on his profession, and provide feedback to lobbyists who are working on bills that affect the medical industry.

Neurologist J. Michael Powers, who has participated in the program for more than two decades, said the opportunity has allowed him to become familiar with the legislative process and how bills move through the chambers.

He said he first got interested in participating in the program after becoming aware of how costly health care can be and how difficult it can be to access.

“It’s nice to see patients in your office but there are problems you’re not going to solve in your office,” he said. “Many doctors don’t have a clue about the legislative process and by going down to the Legislature, you can see what the Legislature can do for you or potentially against you and your patients.”

Keen and Powers said while participants aren’t there to lobby for or against a measure, they aren’t afraid to give their opinion on an issue, if asked.

The Arizona Medical Association has sponsored the Doctor of the Day program at the Capitol for at least four decades, said Ingrid Garvey, program coordinator and vice president of policy and political affairs with the association.

In the 1970s, Garvey said, the House had an “infirmary room” where the doctor of the day would tend to lawmakers and staff who needed medical attention.

These days, while there isn’t a designated medical area, participants in the program still respond to medical needs that may arise while they are at the Legislature. Garvey said the doctors have provided care to lawmakers and staff who had a cold or the flu, helped care for wounds or other injuries, and responded to larger medical emergencies.

Powers said he has helped lawmakers and staff suffering from a bad migraine, a sore throat, and people with blood pressure issues.

Keen said there have been some medical issues while he’s been at the Capitol, but he hasn’t assisted anyone with anything serious. Actually, he said, he thinks people are afraid of him because he’s a medical examiner.

“There was a call the last time I was down there and I tried to help but they were like ‘No, not you. We don’t need you yet,’” he said.

When participants aren’t attending to a medical issue, the doctor of the day meets with lawmakers, attends committee hearings and learns how the lawmaking process works. And each day they are there, a lawmaker introduces the doctor on the floor.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, had the honor of introducing the most doctors this session, and he joked that that’s because Legislative District 23, which he represents, has “doctors galore.”

Lawrence said while on the floor he typically reads from a script that Garvey has prepared, and he rarely veers off the text because most of the participants have a “pretty lengthy resume.” Prior to heading to the floor, he spends time with the participants, learning about their specialties and backgrounds, and about new advances in their fields.

“They love to talk about their specialties and I am a question asker. I ask questions like how close are we to curing cancer, and learn about how good an aspirin can be for people who have had heart attacks,” he said. “Those are the conversations that are really revealing.”

Garvey said the program is open to all members of the medical association. Doctors can begin to sign up for the program in the fall and a doctor is assigned to every work day, which is typically Monday through Thursday, during the first 100 days of the legislative session.

On some days, there is more than one doctor who participates in the program, and sometimes doctors are accompanied by medical students. In rare occasions a doctor gets to serve twice in one year, like Keen did this year after another doctor was unable to attend.

Some are new to the program and others have participated in the program for several years. Walt Lippard, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Phoenix, has been the doctor of the day 24 times.

“Our volunteers love this program,” Garvey said. “We have a handful who sign up year after year, and I think Dr. Lippard is hoping to get 25 years as a participant.”

Graphic by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times

Graphic by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times

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