Saving Lives by Passing Laws

March 05, 2018 10:05 am David Mitchell

Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, M.D., has been a family physician in Oregon for more than 20 years, but her role as a state senator there may have an even more profound effect on the health of her fellow Oregonians.

[Headshot of Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, MD]

Steiner Hayward was the chief sponsor and lead legislator on a bill that raised Oregon’s legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21; the bill became law last year.

“That bill could save more lives and prevent more illness than I ever could as a physician,” she said.

Since taking office in 2012, Steiner Hayward has helped pass legislation to assist those living in poverty and a bill that mandated paid sick leave for companies with 10 or more employees. She said several physicians have reached out to ask how she balances her work in medicine and politics, and she hopes other doctors will follow her path.

“You can accomplish so much good work in a short amount of time,” she said. “It’s incredibly congruent with the work we do as family physicians, and I think family physicians are among the best suited for this. We’re used to learning a lot of new things, building teams and communicating clearly. It’s amazing what you can get done when you have these skills.”

Steiner Hayward keeps a busy schedule at the State Capitol in Salem, but when the Legislative Assembly is not in session, she works two or three half-days a week as an urgent care physician in Portland. She also is a faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

“It would be difficult to give up being a physician,” she said. “I’m one of those weirdos who decided to be a physician when I was 4 years old. Now I’m in my 50s. It’s hard to take that out of your system.”

The state senator said her connection to patients “reminds me what I’m working for and who I’m fighting for in the legislature.”

Steiner Hayward understands the patient perspective on a very personal level. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994.

“It’s really important to remember that no matter what you do, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first,” she said. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.”