Ileana Howard, MD Selected as the 2021 Advocacy Award Winner
The Advocacy Award recognizes members or nonmembers who have made extraordinary contributions in advocating to government entities or insurance companies regarding NM and EDX medicine in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders. Ileana Howard’s, MD tireless work in advocating for veterans along with her efforts dedicated to provide the highest level of specialty care regardless of location using telehealth have won her this year’s Advocacy Award.
Dr. Howard is currently the outpatient medical director at the VA Puget Sound and a clinical associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She also serves as the codirector of the ALS Center of Excellence. She has been a practicing physiatrist for 13 years and a member of AANEM for 12.
After graduating from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Howard completed an internship at Lahey Clinic. She then completed her residency in PM&R at the University of Washington. In 2018, Dr. Howard was awarded the Paralyzed Veterans of America Clinical Excellence Award for her work with the ALS program. Earlier this summer, she also appeared at the start of the Seattle Mariners game for Lou Gehrig day on June 2 to honor her leadership in ALS clinical medicine.
“Veterans are a unique population who, by very definition, have put their own needs below the needs of the greater community when they volunteered to serve their country,” Dr. Howard explains while discussing her motivation behind her advocacy work. “I am reminded of this every day in my clinic, as the veterans I work with continue to serve in their role as patients as the most incredible teachers for my residents and students. I was very fortunate to spend part of my training in the VA, and it is now my privilege to serve this special group.”
Dr. Howard has remained active by volunteering with many different patient service organizations and has even traveled to Capitol Hill to share her insights as a clinician about the unmet needs of patients with NM diseases. She has been involved at a national level in building note templates, outcome measures, and order sets for the relatively new electronic medical records deploying across the VA.
She reflects on the first time she performed a telemedicine visit in 2015. After years of planning, paperwork, and training, she was finally able to visit with a patient who lived roughly 5 hours away. Being a first time attempt, numerous technological issues arose that Dr. Howard fought through. After calling a colleague at the Cleveland VA to set up a video bridge, Dr. Howard says she was moved by the patient’s wife who cried during the visit.
“She was so grateful to be able to access a physician who was knowledgeable and had experience with her husband’s NM disease,” Dr. Howard reflects. “I knew at that moment that it was all worth it and there was no going back to the way things used to be – when patients with advanced stages of disease and disability had to cross a mountain pass any time they needed to see a physician.”
Dr. Howard is happy to say that she has truly found her passion in her practice. She explains that she loves working with patients and greatly enjoys teaching and seeing her former residents/fellows develop their own careers.
“It’s amazing to feel like I have made a meaningful difference for a patient by making a procedure a little less scary, sleuthing a diagnosis, helping alleviate their symptoms, or giving them tools to maximize their independence,” Dr. Howard elaborates.
Dr. Howard cites several of her own mentors as individuals she has to thank such as Drs. Larry Robinson and George Kraft. Another mentor she holds dear is Greg Carter, MD, someone who she says epitomizes brilliance, authenticity, and kindness.
Dr. Howard has learned many valuable lessons along the way. Two that she focuses on are to surround yourself with people who inspire you, and to know that if you don’t like something, you can work to change it. “Change can take a long time to occur, but it is gratifying to do something rather than accept the status quo,” Dr. Howard concludes.
When she is taking a break from fighting for veterans rights, Dr. Howard can be found staying busy with her three children (ages 8, 10 and 12), and their newly acquired “pandemic pup,” a 100 lbs. Bernese Mountain Dog.
“Through my involvement with AANEM, I have had the honor of meeting and working with some of the kindest, smartest, and most passionate clinicians I have had the pleasure of knowing,” Dr. Howard expresses. “I’d like to thank AANEM for their support and structure in bringing this community together.”
Dr. Howard will be recognized at the 2021 Annual Meeting in Aurora, Colorado for her efforts in advocacy work.