by: Amalia Cochran, MD, MA, FACS, FCCM
How many of you have written a letter or sent an email to your member of Congress about an issue?
How many of you have called your member of Congress’ office?
How many of you have visited your member of Congress office, either in the home district or in DC?
How many of you aren’t sure this stuff matters? Does it really make a difference when you call or write or visit to discuss the SGR or the zero-day global or ongoing support for trauma systems?
I’m here to tell you that it does matter. Our Senators and our Representatives are listening- maybe not they themselves directly, but they are using their staff members as their eyes and ears to review those emails and letters and calls. They are interested in what you, as a constituent, have to say. When you are able to develop a longer-term relationship with a staffer, you can even become a content expert for them so that when issues they know are within your scope of practice come up, they’ll contact you for support and further information. So, yes, your engagement on these things matters, and can even bring your Representative along to become a co-sponsor of meaningful legislation or to vote “Yay” or “Nay” in a way that helps our patients and helps the profession of surgery.
I recently crowdsourced on Twitter, and immediately realized that the biggest gap for most people with advocacy is that they simply have no idea where to start. Here’s a helpful visual for you, recognizing that you want to start at the broad base of the pyramid:
The great news is that the American College of Surgeons has developed a resource in the form of Surgeonsvoice.org; once you log in to the site using your ACS member number, it provides you with a roadmap for advocacy, especially if you go to the Action Alerts. They set you up to seamlessly send an email to your member of Congress in two minutes or less.
If you are interested in becoming a bit more engaged, the next step would be to set up an in-district meeting with your member of Congress and/or their staff. I strongly recommend that the first time that you do this, take someone with experience with you. It will make it less intimidating and more fun- and it’s an opportunity to participate in some peer mentoring. In-district meetings are easy to set up, and you can do it simply by making a phone call to their local office.
Finally, a shameless plug. Please come to Washington, DC, in April for the ACS Leadership and Advocacy Conference. It’s a wonderful opportunity to rub elbows with College leadership, you get trained in the process for doing Hill visits, and your appointments all get made for you. Most importantly, someone from your state will usually have done this before, so you have that experienced peer mentor who I alluded to above.
So, get involved. Send a letter, make a call, set up a meeting…go to DC for the leadership and advocacy. Your voice matters.