In our own words—New advocates press Congress for NIH funding
Credit: American Psychological Association, Melvin Rouse and Kevin Freeman
On September 14, 2022, patients, family members, and researchers from numerous states across the nation gathered on Capitol Hill for the 10th annual Rally for Medical Research to advocate for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We attended on behalf of APA and its Committee on Animal Research and Ethics to ask for an increase of $4 billion in NIH funding for FY 2023.
Preparing for Hill visits
Kevin Freeman, PhD: We are inexperienced advocates, and we had a lot of questions about how best to talk about our work as basic researchers and make the case for a bigger NIH budget. I am funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to better understand opioid addiction using animal models.
Melvin Rouse, PhD: And I am an associate professor at the University of Puget Sound conducting research on how hormones, the brain, and reproductive behavior interact, using songbirds as a model system. There was a thorough briefing by the rally organizers the day before our Hill visits. We also met with APA advocacy staff to walk through a typical Hill visit and got tips on what we should know before we met with congressional staff, such as how much NIH funding our institution has.
Freeman: On the evening prior to the rally, advocates attended a reception in which a group of congressional members and Francis Collins, PhD, and Lawrence Tabak, PhD, (former and interim directors of NIH, respectively) delivered rousing talks to the advocacy group. U.S. Representative David Trone (D-MD) highlighted the impacts of the ongoing opioid crisis and the pandemic on mental health, bringing focus to issues that are highly relevant to APA. Sharing a personal story of how addiction shook his family, Representative Trone emphasized the critical role that NIH plays in developing treatments for substance use disorder.
Rouse: Afterward, Collins urged advocates to carry the message to the Hill that NIH’s ability to improve public health requires not only continued funding, but increased funding. Kevin and I were really pleased to grab a photo with Collins after his talk.
Rouse: On the day of the rally, I met with staff from the offices of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), as well as Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). I emphasized that science funding, unlike most things on the Hill, is a truly bipartisan issue. It was evident from our conversations that our advocacy really mattered. It’s our stories, our tangible connection to the impact of NIH sponsored research, that underscore why this should continue to be bipartisan. The congressional staffers impressed upon me the need for sustained organized effort to prevent the politicization of important, quality research.
Freeman: I met with staff from the offices of Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Representative Michael Guest (R-MS), Representative Trent Kelly (R-MS), and Representative Steven Palazzo (R-MS). I was glad to see that staff across all offices were eager to hear examples of how NIH funding was improving the lives of the people of Mississippi. In addition to sharing information about my research to develop pain medications with decreased abuse potential, I described how NIH funding has increased jobs in Mississippi and is leading to the growth of biomedical and tech expertise and infrastructure across the state.
Freeman: Psychologists are in a unique position to act as advocates and ambassadors for science because our profession resides in a domain of common human interest—the journey to understand oneself, others, and the societies that we form. By participating in events like the Rally for Medical Research, psychologists not only raise awareness of issues pertinent to our profession, we also convey a clear message that science is valuable and evidence matters. This advocacy work highlights a fundamental part of APA’s mission—to benefit society and improve lives. All psychologists should engage.
Rouse: I am glad to have had the opportunity to engage with my congressional offices on a topic that really matters to science and the training of the scientific workforce. Thanks, APA, for helping sponsor the Rally for Medical Research and for sending basic researchers to represent the association there.