You are your own best advocate: A how-to guide

You Are Your Best Advocate-graphicEvery day, decisions are made in Washington, DC, and across the nation that have the potential to directly affect surgical practices and patients. Because surgeons believe their responsibility to patients extends beyond the operating room, advocacy and health policy remains a top priority of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

ACS health policy goals include improving surgical patient care and safeguarding standards of that care within an ethical practice environment for the profession. Even in today’s challenging political climate, the College must continue to play a proactive role in bringing meaningful health policy solutions to the attention of Congress and state legislatures.

The ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) helps advance the College’s health policy agenda in Congress through lobbying activities and grassroots efforts. In addition, the ACS Professional Association Political Action Committee (ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC) works to impact political affairs. To help develop and advocate for health care policy that is in the best interests of patients and surgeons, the ACS Washington Office liaises with federal, state, and government entities—including Congress, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—on a variety of issues of importance to the surgical profession, including administrative burdens/regulatory relief, physician reimbursement, surgical workforce shortages, and trauma readiness and systems development.

Surgeons who develop health policy expertise are better able to advocate for meaningful, practical policies at the federal and state levels. The ACS encourages all surgeons to become more engaged in advocacy.

Your role

John H. Armstrong, MD, FACS (left), and Rep. Neal Dunn, MD, FACS (R-FL-02)

John H. Armstrong, MD, FACS (left), and Rep. Neal Dunn, MD, FACS (R-FL-02)

Establishing yourself as a surgeon advocate is crucial to making your voice heard. A surgeon’s firsthand experience and training in patient care provide a realistic perspective on health policy issues to members of Congress and their staff. As a result, elected officials will look to you for guidance in resolving complex issues.

The College and the ACSPA offer the following resources to help surgeons directly play a role in advocacy and health policy:

  • SurgeonsVoice: Through SurgeonsVoice, the ACSPA’s nationwide, interactive advocacy program, surgeon advocates have the ability to send messages to Congress to strengthen the ACS’ impact in Washington. Learning more about grassroots tools and resources available online can help Fellows become more engaged, effective surgeon advocates.
  • The Health Policy Advisory Council (HPAC): HPAC consists of key surgeon advocates who have developed expertise about legislative, political, and regulatory issues in order to facilitate two-way communication between Fellows and the DAHP. HPAC members serve as grassroots ambassadors, forming an extensive, nationwide grassroots advocacy network.

Taking action on key legislative priorities is vital to provide the surgical perspective in Washington. Regular engagement with members of Congress and their staff and serving as a trusted resource on issues of importance to surgeons and surgical patients is an essential part of establishing oneself as a surgeon advocate.

As a first step, surgeons should familiarize themselves with the backgrounds, key committee assignments, voting history, and relevant leadership roles of their representatives and senators. Regularly visiting members’ websites, signing up for e-newsletters or updates, and keeping up with issues they support are great ways to stay informed.

New engagement opportunities

From left: Scott H. Kurtzman, MD, FACS; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); and Brendan T. Campbell, MD, FACS

From left: Scott H. Kurtzman, MD, FACS; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); and Brendan T. Campbell, MD, FACS

The DAHP has developed new programs to empower surgeon advocates with necessary tools to establish and maintain relationships with legislators to help advance the College’s health policy priorities. These engagement opportunities include the following:

Advocate of the Year

The Advocate of the Year recognition program tracks how engaged surgeons take action and use the ACS advocacy tools. Top advocates establish and maintain relationships with legislators, helping to advance health policy priorities. The Advocate of the Year will be recognized at the annual Clinical Congress, featured in the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons, and invited to participate in other advocacy-related activities. Level of engagement will be measured using the following criteria:

  • Attendance at the annual Advocacy Summit
  • Service on an ACS committee
  • Participation in in-district meetings or events
  • Presenting on the value of ACS advocacy efforts
  • Contributions to ACS publications
  • Provision of advocacy testimonials
  • Recruitment of other surgeon advocates
  • Development of expertise on a health policy issue

Advocate at Home

Meeting with elected officials is a powerful way to raise the profile of issues and effect change. While members of Congress and their staff are well-versed on many issues, surgeons are the experts on surgical issues. Similarly, constituent relationships assist policymakers in determining the importance of various issues within their community.

Senators and representatives return home to their states and districts during congressional work periods. In-district meetings are an opportunity to meet with policymakers without traveling to Washington, DC. Through DAHP’s Advocate at Home program, staff can assist with planning, preparing, and executing a successful meeting or event.

Frequently asked questions

Surgeons often approach DAHP staff with questions about the value of advocacy. The following is a sampling of some of these questions and the College’s responses.

  • What is grassroots advocacy? Grassroots advocacy comes in many forms, including writing letters; educating legislators and policymakers on issues; testifying before governing bodies; working with local, state, and federal agencies; and more. The purpose of grassroots advocacy is to demonstrate to policymakers that a particular issue has strong support in their home districts among their constituents.
  • Who are grassroots advocates? A grassroots advocate is someone who is passionate about an issue and interested in making their voice heard. Grassroots advocates help elevate awareness regarding specific issues at the local, state, or federal levels. By leveraging their voices through multiple mediums including e-mail, social media, and other public policy forums, grassroots advocates have the ability to quickly and effectively impact change.
  • Who are grasstops advocates? Grasstops advocates are seasoned grassroots experts who mentor peers and colleagues to encourage participation. They have preexisting relationships with their lawmakers, staff, and local organizations, and serve as trusted advisors.
  • How do I know if the ACS is working on issues that affect me? The College’s advocacy activities at the federal and state levels are established to represent interests of surgeons and surgical patients. Fellows are encouraged to regularly review issue briefs, position statements, and more at facs.org/advocacy.
  • Who are my elected officials? It is easy to learn more about members of Congress. Go to house.gov or www.senate.gov to look up your legislators by ZIP code or state.
  • How do I know where my lawmaker stands on a specific issue? Becoming educated about members of Congress’ backgrounds, committee assignments, voting history, and relevant leadership roles can help provide a better understanding of issues of importance to them. This information is generally posted on an elected official’s website.
  • How do I set up a meeting with a congressional office? Review the “Grassroots Guide.” DAHP staff also can assist with scheduling requests.
  • What is a “call to action”? When lawmakers need to hear from their constituents to elevate a legislative priority, DAHP staff will issue a “call to action” to encourage Fellows and other ACS members to contact their members of Congress.
  • Where can I find additional information regarding ACS advocacy and health policy priorities? Visit online resources via facs.org/advocacy/surgeonsvoice and facs.org or contact the ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy at ahp@facs.org.

The bottom line is that you are your best advocate. All Fellows and members need to be engaged in the College’s advocacy and health policy efforts.

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