From surgeon to grassroots advocate: Chapter leaders engage in advocacy development

State Leadership Advocacy Conference attendees. Front row: Susan Lee, MD, FACS; Manmeet Malik, MD; and Marcie Leeds, MD. Second row: Ms. Macias; James Hinsdale, MD, FACS; Paula Hammer; Ms. Starkey; Karen Rieger, MD, FACS; William Nowlin, MD, FACS; and Dr. Masiakos. Back row: Chris Tasik; Dr. Schwarz; Dr. Guillamondegui; Dr. McAneny; Kimberly Lieber, MD, FACS; Kristin Poppalardo; Charlotte Grill; and Jon Sutton.

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) presented the State Leadership Advocacy Conference in April at the College’s headquarters in Chicago, IL. A total of 20 chapter leaders attended, including Governors, administrators, and Executive Directors from eight chapters: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio. Attendees had the opportunity to network, learn how to structure their chapter to maximize advocacy efforts, explore innovative ways to motivate chapter members, identify best practices for communicating with legislators, and consider programs on building effective legislative messages and coalitions.

The conference was part of the College’s ongoing effort to enhance and support chapter advocacy in the states. In a 2010 ACS member survey, 65 percent of the Fellows surveyed reported that state-level advocacy is an “essential” and “very important” benefit of ACS membership. Ninety-two percent of those surveyed “strongly agree” or “agree” that advocacy should be a priority for the ACS.*

Program highlights

Throughout the day-and-a-half conference, various topics were covered by a wide array of speakers. The presenters, including College staff members, chapter Executive Directors, surgeon advocacy leaders, and staff from the American Medical Association offered a variety of content perspectives.

Attendees were introduced to numerous state advocacy programs that ACS chapters could readily implement. Kathy Browning, Executive Director of the Georgia Society of the American College of Surgeons, and Jennifer Starkey, president of Key Management Solutions in Columbus, OH, discussed advocacy programs that could be instituted at the state level. Ms. Browning highlighted the importance of having a structured advocacy agenda. She suggested that chapter leaders raise member awareness by highlighting advocacy when prioritizing chapter needs. She also recommended that chapters publish an advocacy newsletter to establish regular communication with chapter members, create a state political action committee, effectively use social media, and create and participate in legislative “calls to action.” Ms. Browning reminded attendees of the importance of advocacy with a quote she attributed to Plato: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”

Ms. Starkey’s presentation focused on the importance of organizing and hosting a state lobby day. She provided tips for a successful lobby day, including working with the state medical society to collaborate on an agenda, creating a program that is structured to benefit chapter members and members of the state legislature, and creating materials that enhance the message for both lobby day attendees and legislators. Ms. Starkey also suggested engaging chapter members through programs outside of a formal lobby day, such as Doctor of the Day meetings, telephone marathons, and White Coat Rallies.

John Schwarz, MD, FACS, an otolaryngologist from Battle Creek, MI, provided illuminating insights into the political process drawing on his own political career serving as the mayor of Battle Creek, a Michigan state senator, president pro tempore of the Michigan Senate, and a U.S. representative. Dr. Schwarz regaled attendees with stories from his days serving in Congress and highlighted the importance of becoming involved even while continuing to practice surgery.

Peter Masiakos, MD, FACS, Legislative Chair, Massachusetts Chapter of the ACS, showed attendees how he implemented a successful advocacy campaign by describing his multi-year campaign to pass all-terrain vehicle (ATV) age restriction legislation in his state. During his presentation, Dr. Masiakos highlighted several key facets of a successful advocacy campaign:

  • Think outside of the box when developing resources and coalitions
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel
  • Use research and data already available
  • Don’t give up

Dr. Masiakos’ inspiring presentation and tireless efforts have encouraged representatives from Washington, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as several ACS chapter leaders, to become interested in passing ATV laws in their respective states.

A surgeon’s perspective

As the President-Elect for the Tennessee Chapter, Dr. Guillamondegui, a co-author of this article, attended the recent State Leadership Advocacy conference to gain some understanding of the process involved in engaging members of Congress in a dialog regarding the laws that affect their surgical patients. He also sought to develop a plan to encourage the state membership to become active participants at the local level.

Every year, the Tennessee legislature introduces legislation that would repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law. The advocacy conference allowed Dr. Guillamondegui the opportunity to gain perspective on how to actively participate and successfully oppose the repeal legislation by using the guidelines established by Drs. Masiakos and Schwarz. By leveraging the relationship built while attending the conference with David McAneny, MD, FACS, ACS Governor from Massachusetts, surgeons in Tennessee now have an opportunity to develop a program that connects active members of the chapter with less active members at a local level to ensure physicians have a voice with representatives in their home districts.

Although the State Leadership Advocacy Conference was focused on a defined group of chapter leaders, the advocacy development information covered during the conference is universal in application. All surgeons can benefit from a basic knowledge of advocacy and by supporting their respective chapter advocacy activities.

For more information on the topics discussed in this article, including copies of handouts or presentations, contact Alexis Macias, Regional State Affairs Associate, at amacias@facs.org or 312-202-5446.


*Anderson, Niebuhr, & Associates, Inc. American College of Surgeons 2010 Fellow Survey. 2010.

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