[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/16/art.demdoc0316.gi.jpg caption="Democratic Del. Donna Christensen practiced medicine for 20 years before being elected to Congress."]
Washington (CNN) – When you walk into Del. Donna Christensen's Capitol Hill office, it's hard to miss proof of her medical expertise.
Christensen is the only female doctor in Congress. Her medical degree, professional licenses, board certification, awards and family physician's creed occupy an entire wall next to her desk. She practiced medicine for 20 years before she was elected to Congress in 1996.
A non-voting delegate representing the U.S. Virgin Islands, Christensen sits on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and on its Health Subcommittee. She also is the point person for the Congressional Black Caucus's efforts on health care.
But while Republican doctors-turned lawmakers have been all over the airwaves with their opposition to health care reform, Christensen has been largely absent from her party's efforts to explain its ambitious legislation.
She sat down Tuesday for an interview with CNN. "Up to the other day, I was saying to somebody in leadership, 'We need to be out there. We haven't had a message. We need to be out there talking about our bill.'"
The response? Until there's a bill, we can't have a message, Christensen says she was told.
And when the White House held a daylong, televised, bipartisan health care summit last month, three Republican lawmakers with MDs had seats in the room.
On the Democratic side, Christensen didn't make the cut. "They didn't choose to take me," Christensen said of her absence. "I didn't know beforehand but one or two people suggested that I be there. But, they didn't see fit to have me there."
Undaunted, Christensen still tried to get close to Blair House, where the summit was held. She was joined by Rep. Lynn Woolsey and Rep. Barbara Lee, both California Democrats.
"We went because we had a particular message which we didn't feel was going to be a part of the discussion," Christensen said. "We had three documents with us that we wanted to hand to everybody as they were going in."
But, she added, they were not allowed close enough to achieve their aim.
Asked about the fact that Christensen was not at the summit, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there were only four discretionary spots available for House Democrats. The speaker "really values Ms. Christensen because she is a doctor," said Brendan Daly, Pelosi's communications director.
For her part, Christensen says her party was caught by surprise during the congressional recess last August, when public rage over health care reform boiled over.
"We weren't prepared for what happened. We didn't see that organized opposition coming at us. And I think we should have, you know?"
And, in retrospect, the Democratic lawmaker also said her party could have done a better job delivering its message.
"We don't put in the time that the other party does on creating a clear, catchy message that sticks," she said.
As Democrats appear on the verge of an endgame after a year of wrangling, Christensen hopes things turn around.
"The plan is to have a bill, and once we have the bill we'll have a clear message about what the bill is and I think the message is getting clearer. We're saying the same thing over and over and over again so it's probably getting through. I think [senior citizens] are a big group that we really need to get to."
Follow Martina Stewart on Twitter: @MMStewartCNN