Something that I don’t think a lot of people know is that I recruited Catalina Berenblum (Cat) to join the Patient Advisory Council (PAC), years ago. And now that she’s on-boarded me as the PAC's new Co-Chair, it feels like we’ve really come full circle. If I had known then, what I know now, it would have been an interesting sight to see: a high school freshman leading an orientation call to onboard a future PAC Co-Chair and eventual med student. Obviously, I didn’t know that Cat would become either of those things when I first picked up the phone, but I did expect great things from her right away. From our first conversation, I was sure Cat was going to do something amazing: she became an instant role model to me. That awe I felt was well-founded.

During Cat’s time as PAC Co-Chair the group experienced exponential growth. I watched not only membership, but also organization, representation and engagement grow and flourish. Cat created leadership structures, encouraged advocacy and confidence, secured PAC funding, and so much more. When Cat made the exciting announcement that she would be going to medical school, I was so proud and amazed. But that also meant there would be big shoes that needed filling. I felt strongly that I wanted to pick up where Cat left off and lead, so I applied to become the next PAC Co-Chair.

As I was transitioning into my new role, working closely with Cat as she handed off her Co-Chair reins to me, I couldn’t help but think of the amazing cycle of events that led us to this moment: I onboarded Cat into the PAC when I was a young high school freshman. I learned from her. And now, as a college freshman, she is the one onboarding me into a new role so I can continue her work.

Sometimes, I think of the PAC as sort of like a train station. Mostly, patients with IBD join, they stay a little while, and when the time is right they leave. And for some of us, we work to keep the train running so we can continue to help as many patients as possible. And this work, it allows us to grow, too. Eventually, PAC members progress past the need for the PAC and will move on with their lives, taking with them what they’ve learned. I helped Cat climb aboard that train in early 2017, and then she showed me the gears and escorted me to the conductor’s booth.

Stepping into this leadership role during a pandemic isn’t easy, but my plan is to do what every American is doing: my best. I look forward to working side-by-side with Christian Lawson - my Co-Chair. Christian and I actually joined the PAC around the same time. We’ve worked together on important initiatives before, from rapping about IBD at an ImproveCareNow Community Conference, to helping select the next leaders of ImproveCareNow (Kristin Howe and Shehzad Saeed). Together, we plan to continue to build on Cat’s amazing progress. We’re going to find ways to further encourage and build patient involvement across ImproveCareNow, to foster an inclusive environment for all members, to develop an even more sustainable structure, to deepen relationships within the ICN Network, and to focus on initiatives that support diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The PAC is more passionate and empowered than ever; what a unique set of people I am so blessed to know! The strength and vulnerability of our members inspires me daily. I have learned alongside them about all the highs and lows IBD can bring, and we have learned together that there is still so much we can do. I have felt firsthand how hard this disease can be and I’m determined to work hard to fight it with the PAC as their next Co-Chair. 


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