Advocacy in Action

Portrait of Lee Savio Beers

Lee Savio Beers

“My dad is a nuclear engineer and my mom is a teacher. In many ways what I do blends these professions.”

Lee Savio Beers 96M is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), helping families and her fellow doctors.

Beers may have been destined for the US Navy—growing up near Annapolis definitely increased the odds. But her willingness to learn to lead did as well. Today, as president of the AAP, she’s had a long track record in leadership.

Beers, medical director, community health and advocacy, at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., looks back at her decision to be a doctor and can see how her parents’ professions set the stage for her own.

“My dad is a nuclear engineer and my mom is a teacher. In many ways what I do blends these professions,” she says. “The science-based part seems obvious, but many don’t consider the teaching element because you’re trying to impart knowledge on healthier living. A doctor who can explain that part well may get through to a child more than someone who can’t.”

After the Navy paid her way through medical school, she served as a pediatric resident at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth from 1996 to 1999. She would gain more lessons through serving as a doctor in Guantanamo Bay from 1999 to 2001. “I was helping military families face a lot of stress,” she says. “I realized I gravitated toward supporting families in challenging situations and I learned a lot by being the only pediatrician.”

President and Present to Help

Beers is still supporting families as president of the AAP, founded in 1930. She holds this position at a time when pediatricians often are being asked to weigh in on current topics, such as school reopenings.

“Our primary goal is to help child health by promoting what we know about evidence and science and how children can thrive,” she says. “It can be challenging to have these collaborative conversations, but it’s our goal and my goal. We know for kids and adults only about 10% of a child’s or a patient’s health is actually addressed within the medical setting. So much is impacted by their community and their nutrition and the education they’re getting. We need to think about how we can play our part.”

She relishes the chance to serve and represent pediatricians, as well as their mission of healing. “I thought I’d throw my name in the hat and see what happened,” she says. “I feel humbled that I was chosen.”

When she can, she still sees patients at Children’s National Hospital’s community pediatric health center. But much of her energy is spent on research and pilot programs to increase access to services. “One pilot we’re doing involves brief autism evaluations in the primary care center,” she says. “Another examines policy and advocacy. We have a small policy team I oversee. We look at systems, laws, regulations, and more … factors that influence the ability of children to access mental health care.”

Beers co-directs the Early Childhood Innovation Network, a collaborative of health and mental health providers, community-based advocates, parents, and early childhood education centers and groups. “We use a two-generation approach, working with both the parent and the child to help provide them with support to promote good mental health and social-emotional development, as well as decreasing the impact of adversities and challenges they may face,” she says.

Beers is passionate about advocacy and looks forward to making real changes while leading AAP. “As physicians, we really have to be non-partisan,” she says. “We need to talk to policymakers or others who are in positions to make decisions and to be able to share with them the real-life—not just theoretical—situations that patients are experiencing.”

This year has been difficult, she acknowledges, saying, “Together, we all have held both grief and gratitude in our hands. Sometimes we’ve felt strong, and sometimes it’s been really hard. We have dipped into our wells of resilience, and while they may feel shallow now, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.’ ”

—Eric Butterman

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