Advocating for Patients with Migraine: Q&A

Amaal Starling, MD, FAHS, discusses how doctors also function as migraine warriors 

Healthcare providers can be some of the biggest and best advocates for their patients. But many doctors are unsure of how they can get started advocating for patients with migraine. 

Amaal Starling, MD, FAHS, is an assistant professor at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. We recently spoke with Starling about how providers can get involved more with advocacy efforts—as well as how their daily responsibilities already qualify them as migraine warriors.

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How do you explain the value of advocating for patients with migraine in clinical practice?
I feel that it is our ethical duty as healthcare providers to be advocates for patients with migraine. We should want to make sure that all of our patients get adequate access to care, as well as the best treatment regimens for their specific needs. We are involved in advocating for patients with migraine on a daily basis when we see them and we educate and counsel them. Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and look at what you’re actually doing—it’s advocacy.

There’s also a lot of talk in healthcare right now about physician burnout, specifically in neurology. Preventing burnout is often about figuring out how to bring meaning back into your work and research. For me, one of those things is participating in advocacy. For myself and many others, this is the best antidote to burnout. It’s what really brings meaning to my work and what fulfills me.

What would you say to clinicians who want to do this kind of work but have busy schedules? How would you encourage them to go about doing that?
There’s a lot of little things that you can do that actually don’t take a lot of time. For one thing, you’re already doing it just by treating your patients with migraine. So call yourself what you are: an advocate. If you are a headache specialist, you are already a migraine warrior. That’s what you do every day—call it what it is.

The second thing to remember is that advocating for patients with migraine doesn’t mean you have to out there on Capitol Hill, talking to elected officials about policy issues affecting headache medicine. Those kinds of things are time-intensive, and some people will want to do that. But what we can all do is empower our patients to become their own advocates. That’s just part of our education process that we have with our patients, providing them avenues to become advocates themselves. A busy clinician can encourage a patient to go to the American Migraine Foundation website and join that advocacy movement.

Providers also participate in advocacy when we speak at different events with other healthcare providers. This applies to everything from grand rounds to doing talks for different physician organizations. Things along those lines are also a part of advocacy. We’re making sure we bring appropriate treatment and access to care to our patients with migraine and other headache disorders.

What would you say to a provider who is hesitant to get involved with advocacy efforts like these?
Sometimes people shy away from them. The only thing I would say is to throw yourself into every single one of those opportunities. It’s good for my professional growth and development; it’s a way of participating in advocacy that fits seamlessly into my career. 

This also applies to media opportunities. I was one of those individuals who didn’t necessarily like to be involved with media. I felt like I would say the wrong thing or get quoted in a way I didn’t want to be. But now, I’ve committed myself to immediately respond every time I have a media opportunity. With a little advanced preparation, you can develop a couple of sound bytes or talking points you’re able to properly deliver. 

Whether it be in print or for a video, grab all of those opportunities. It’s another way you can seamlessly incorporate advocacy into your clinical practice and your career.


Amaal Starling is a member of the American Headache Society, a professional society for doctors and other health care workers who specialize in studying and treating headache and migraine. The Society’s objectives are to promote the exchange of information and ideas concerning the causes and treatments of headache and related painful disorders, and to share and advance the work of its members. Learn more about the American Headache Society’s work and find out how you can become a member today.

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