The Transformative Power of Patient Advocacy
Michele Mitchell shares her personal journey into patient advocacy
I believe patient advocacy transcends professional achievements; it's a personal odyssey molded by impactful experiences. A considerable portion of my life centered around my IT career at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. However, life is multifaceted, and I embraced roles beyond my profession – a devoted wife, stepmother, and grandmother. This journey, intertwined with a life-altering encounter with breast cancer, was further complicated when I started caring for numerous family and friends, many struggling with similar health challenges. Retirement was a shift towards advocating for others navigating comparable trials.
My passion for patient advocacy was sparked when I underwent cancer treatment at the University of Michigan Health System, where I received exceptional care. The center wanted to support patients, and I became a patient advisor and co-chair in various advisory councils, including the Department of Pathology Patient and Family Advisory Council. These volunteer opportunities gave me a platform and empowered me to push for improved patient outcomes within my healthcare system.
My commitment extended to volunteering at the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery Program, supporting newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and advocating for cancer screening on various platforms. Additionally, my involvement with the American Society for Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) as a patient champion allowed me to emphasize the importance of patient–pathologist interactions through speeches and educational discussions.
As an author, I’ve shared diverse insights, from discussing the impacts of the 21st CURES Act on the healthcare experience to highlighting the significance of patients meeting with the pathologist who diagnosed their disease. The transformative experience of reviewing my pathology reports with a pathologist, years after my diagnosis, fueled my dedication to expand access to such opportunities universally.
Most recently, I investigated the possibilities of what generative AI could offer patients and further delved into the realm of harnessing the potential of the AI movement, particularly focusing on exploring the possibilities and obstacles in leveraging generative AI and natural language processing. If managed properly, AI can provide individuals with insights into their medical conditions as they struggle to decipher the implications of their ailments. This integration can offer patients a comprehensive understanding of their health status, paving the way for informed decisions regarding their wellbeing.
Though recognitions like the 2020 ASCP Patient Champion of the Year and the 2023 Michigan Cancer Consortium Inspiration Award are gratifying, true fulfillment lies in driving tangible policy changes and making real transformations in healthcare. My true passion is championing patient-centered care and advocating for a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare for all.
For me, patient advocacy reaches far beyond mere recognition; it involves reshaping healthcare environments to center around each person’s needs and elevate their voices. My dedication lies in fostering fair systems that authentically cater to and honor patients. Taking on this self-appointed role is a privilege, and I approach it earnestly, striving to inform, embolden, and effect substantial changes in healthcare policies and safety measures.
As my journey in patient advocacy progresses, I am driven by a profound sense of duty and respect for this responsibility.
Patient Adviser and Co-Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Pathology’s Patient and Family Advisory Council, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.