WHY should surgeons take time out of their busy schedules to meet with legislators?
To become an effective surgeon advocate, nothing is more important than establishing a personal relationship with your legislators. Conversely, to a legislator, there is nothing more valuable than the input and support of constituents. After all, constituents are VOTERS. Meeting with policy makers and/or their staff is extremely valuable in advancing the overall advocacy agenda of The American College of Surgeons and provides surgeons with the opportunity to develop key contacts in the offices of their legislators.
WHERE do such meetings take place?
All U.S. Representatives and Senators have one or more offices for constituent service in their home districts or states. These offices serve as a readily accessible meeting point. As an alternative, legislators frequently will schedule meetings with constituents in mutually convenient locations such as a coffee shop, or during a local legislative event such as a town hall.
WHEN is it most feasible to schedule in-district meetings?
You might be surprised to discover how much time is allotted by both the House and Senate for in-district work periods. Typical times include periods around President’s Day in February, Easter/Passover in March/April, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and summer recess (late July and the month of August). If Congress does not officially adjourn in early October, additional work periods include time around Columbus Day in October, Veteran’s Day in November, and Thanksgiving. Congress will usually adjourn for the year in December. A specific schedule for each legislative body for the year 2016 can be found at:
HOW does one schedule an in-district meeting?
To set up a meeting you should first search the websites of your representatives (www.house.gov) and senators (www.senate.gov) for information as to the preferred scheduling procedures. Expect each office’s procedure to be a bit different. You will be asked to provide your name, address, and basic contact information as well as to briefly describe what issue(s) you wish to discuss. Be sure to mention that you are a surgeon and also whether you have previously met with the representative or senator.
If several days pass and staff from the office have not followed up, you should not hesitate to call or contact the office again. Remember, persistence is key! Keep in mind that legislators typically maintain busy schedules during the in-district work period and accordingly, the scheduled appointment time will be brief and subject to change, perhaps on short notice.
If you experience difficulty or simply would like to have assistance in scheduling an in-district meeting, staff in the ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy are available to assist and may be contacted by e-mail at surgeonsvoice.org.
WHAT should one discuss?
As a surgeon advocate, your most powerful tool is frequent contact and meetings with your elected officials. Meetings provide an opportunity to offer knowledge and perspective to educate legislators on key topics important to ensuring access to quality surgical care. Your personal experience brings a personal, human touch to issues about which legislators only have knowledge based upon raw numbers and impersonal policy jargon. Most legislators, as well as their staff, will be grateful to have the reliable resource of a constituent’s experience and perspective on complicated medical issues.
To maximize the opportunity for a successful meeting and thereby lay the foundation for the development of a mutually beneficial future relationship, I would offer the following three tips:
1) KNOW YOUR LEGISLATOR: Visit your legislators’ websites, read their biographies, ascertain to what congressional committees they are assigned, and what leadership roles they may have. All of this serves to help determine what issues are important to them and what positions they have previously taken on such issues.
2) KNOW YOUR ISSUE and be able to FRAME IT: Nothing substitutes for a solid knowledge base of the issue and the position you are trying to convey. Be focused and resist the temptation to try to cover too many topics in any one visit. When presenting your argument, “frame it” in layman’s terms much as you would explain it to a patient. Including examples of real-life, anecdotal experiences demonstrating how the status quo or the proposed legislation (depending upon the circumstance) is impacting providers and patients is particularly important.
3) HAVE AN ASK: It is imperative that you always be clear with your legislators about what you want them to do. This serves to reinforce the importance of your having taken time out of your schedule to communicate with them and also serves to hold the legislator accountable. “Asks” can be as specific as a request to cosponsor and support legislation or simply making the offer to serve as a resource to them as a constituent with expertise in health care.