It is nearly impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the television without being inundated with stories of partisan gridlock and political pandering in our nation’s capital. Americans are surely left with the impression that the days of negotiated compromise born of the blood, sweat, and tears of conscientious lawmakers and their staffs are a vestige of “the way things used to be.” Every day on Capitol Hill lawmakers make decisions—or, as it more often seems, avoid making decisions—that directly affect a surgeon’s ability to treat patients. Although the American College of Surgeons (ACS) leadership and Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) staff work tirelessly on behalf of Fellows to influence and shape health care policy, the real power to drive surgery’s advocacy agenda lies with you, the elected official’s constituent. It is through your involvement that the ACS can advance surgery’s health policy agenda.
Developing a pillar for progress
The College has developed SurgeonsVoice.org an advocacy platform for members of the ACS to help move the needle in Washington. This new grassroots advocacy program aims to create a groundswell of activism that will motivate elected officials to act as champions for the issues of critical importance to surgery, such as Medicare physician payment, surgical workforce issues, and medical liability reform, to help ensure optimal outcomes and access for the surgical patient.
A surgeon’s responsibility to protect his or her patients and practice now extends beyond the operating room. SurgeonsVoice provides the necessary tools to empower members of the College to be effective advocates for these issues. Past grassroots efforts demonstrate that members of Congress want to hear from you, as the expert on surgical care and practice and as a constituent. Legislators need to know how a specific issue will affect the people in their districts and they look to constituents for answers. You vote for your representatives, and it is your voice and experiences that can help guide their decisions.
What is SurgeonsVoice?
SurgeonsVoice is a nationwide, interactive advocacy program created in conjunction with the ACS Professional Association (ACSPA). (All ACS Fellows are also members of the ACSPA.) This program has been engineered to educate, advocate, and motivate members of Congress and influence their decisions. It provides surgeons with the tools—described later in this article—to become surgeon advocates in every congressional district nationwide, establishing professional and personal relationships with decision makers, both on and off Capitol Hill. This program allows surgeons to become constituents who their legislators know and trust to provide them with valuable, meaningful information regarding health care issues.
SurgeonsVoice also empowers surgeons to strengthen the College’s impact in Congress and around the country. While Fellows may seek assistance and coordinate efforts through the ACS DAHP, SurgeonsVoice is designed to be a self-service tool kit, allowing Fellows to carry out advocacy activities at any time and often without setting foot in Washington.
You can engage in a number of advocacy-related activities online when you visit SurgeonsVoice.org, such as:
- Take action on key issues by participating in town hall meetings, reaching out to members of Congress, encouraging colleagues to get involved, and more
- Learn about your legislators
- Become a key contact
- Share personal stories regarding the effects of health care legislation on your practice
- Learn the fundamentals of serving as a surgeon advocate
An advocacy tool kit and a comprehensive advocacy guidebook also are available, which provide the education to be a grassroots expert. Learn how Washington works, what is going on in surgical advocacy, different ways to get involved, and how to take your advocacy efforts to the next level. Also posted are many useful how-to guides focused on arranging meetings with elected officials, the do’s and don’ts of a successful meeting, and more.
Meet with elected officials at home
District Office Contacts by Surgeons (DOCS)
Participants in the DOCS program routinely meet with representatives and senators in their district offices during congressional recesses, also known as “in-district work periods,” and advocate on issues critical to surgery. DOCS participants also have the opportunity to invite legislators and their staff to visit the surgeons’ practices or hospitals and participate in grand rounds or other meetings. These interactions foster lasting relationships between participating surgeons and members of Congress and promote the image of surgeons as knowledgeable and trusted resources on health care policy.
The goal is to form a DOCS team in each U.S. congressional district, which will forge relationships with representatives and senators in that district. Each DOCS team will have an experienced surgeon advocate taking the lead to organize the meetings with elected officials and their staff in home district offices three or four times per year. DOCS participants can find all the health policy materials, logistics information, and meeting how-to’s in the advocacy tool kit on the SurgeonsVoice website. Each group will report to the ACS DAHP on the results of the meeting and coordinate any necessary follow-up by the federal lobbying team in Washington. Engaged Fellows of all specialties will become the key surgeon advocates leading the advancement of surgery’s health policy agenda.
If you are interested in becoming an advocacy leader in your state, join the DOCS team and begin working to develop substantive relationships with your elected state officials.
Meeting with policymakers and/or their staff is a valuable part of advancing the overall surgical advocacy agenda and provides an opportunity to develop key contacts with legislators.
All U.S. representatives and senators have at least one office in their home district or state. District offices serve as a readily accessible meeting point for constituents to visit when their elected officials are home. In fact, meeting in-district often means that the member has more time to dedicate to the meeting, with fewer distractions than when in Washington, where on any given day he or she may have 10 constituent meetings, two political fundraisers, a congressional hearing, and meetings with a party caucus.
Another advantage of an in-district meeting is that the staff in the legislator’s home office is often less overwhelmed, with fewer people seeking their attention, and will work to ensure that the constituent’s request (or “ask”) is properly addressed. The more interactive and involved a constituent becomes with a particular legislator and his or her staff, the more likely the constituent is to become a trusted resource on issues of the day.
Constituents can augment efforts by participating in myriad other activities, such as political fundraisers and town hall meetings. Come campaign season, nothing is more appreciated than the help of volunteers who are respected members of the community, such as surgeons. Surgeon advocates seeking an ongoing, at-home experience are encouraged to join the SurgeonsVoice District Office Contacts by Surgeons (DOCS) program. To learn more about DOCS, see the sidebar.
Become a Chapter Councilor
The Health Policy Advisory Council (HPAC) is the grassroots advocacy committee for the College, and is based on the theory that “all politics is local.” In addition to an executive Regional Coordinating Committee (consisting of Region Chiefs), there is one councilor from every ACS chapter who is responsible for fostering an extensive grassroots advocacy network throughout their chapter. In doing so, councilors must develop an expertise on regulatory and health care policy issues, promote grassroots and political advocacy among their chapter members, and communicate feedback on legislative and regulatory policy and implementation from surgeons on the ground in their chapters back to the ACS DAHP. The Chair of HPAC is Charles Mabry, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from Pine Bluff, AR, and the Vice-Chair is Howard Snyder, MD, FACS, a pediatric urologist from Philadelphia, PA.
Learn more about the PAC
The ACSPA political action committee (ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC) provides nonpartisan financial support to the campaigns of members of Congress and candidates who support and are positioned to influence surgery’s legislative goals. Visit SurgeonsPAC.org to learn more.
Grassroots is a marathon, not a sprint
It is important to remember that advocacy is an ongoing process and that first encounters with legislators and their staffs may be brief and introductory. As an advocate, it is important to continue to cultivate each relationship and elevate the importance of each issue. The goal is to become a trusted resource for advice on how specific legislation will affect practicing surgeons and surgical patients. SurgeonsVoice will capitalize on this nationwide network of grassroots advocates to advance surgery’s health policy agenda.
To learn more about SurgeonsVoice, or to get involved, visit SurgeonsVoice.org or contact Sara Morse, Manager, Political Affairs and Grassroots, DAHP, at 202-672-1512 or email@example.com.