The American College of Surgeons (ACS) continues to prioritize improving surgical patient care and safeguarding standards of that care within an ethical practice environment. Even in this unique political climate, the ACS must continue to propose meaningful health policy proposals for Congress and state legislatures to consider. Although the ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) leverages critical advocacy priorities at both the federal and state level, it is important for surgeon-advocates to become experts in this space and advocate for meaningful, practical policies in Washington, DC, and at home.
As a surgeon, you can provide a realistic perspective on health policy issues. Establishing yourself as a surgeon-advocate is crucial to making surgery’s voice heard. More specifically, regularly engaging with members of Congress and their staff, and serving as a trusted resource on issues of importance to surgeons and the surgical patient, is essential. As a result, many lawmakers, particularly elected officials, will look to you for guidance on complex issues.
For this reason, the ACS will continue to highlight advocacy and health policy initiatives, including opportunities for engagement.
ACS advocacy: A brief history
Recognizing that a surgeon’s responsibility to patients extends beyond the operating room, in 2001 the ACS Board of Governors voted unanimously to launch a 501c(6) affiliated corporation to offer a broader range of political activities and services designed to benefit surgeons and surgical patients. The formation of the ACS Professional Association (ACSPA) enabled the College to increase its legislative portfolio through the development of an expanded advocacy program featuring a political action committee (PAC) known as ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC. Fellows hold a seamless membership in both the ACS and the ACSPA.
Working in tandem with the ACSPA, the ACS DAHP ensures that decisions made in Washington are in the best interests of surgeons, surgery, and surgical patients. DAHP staff includes well-connected congressional lobbyists, regulatory affairs specialists, and more, who are well-equipped to defend and uphold the College’s policy priorities. However, despite having diverse experts on staff, it is no secret that surgeons are some of the most effective advocates for surgical care.
You are your best advocate
As a surgeon, ACS member, and, most importantly, as a constituent of a U.S. member of Congress, you are your best advocate. While getting involved in advocacy can be daunting, especially given the partisan nature of today’s political environment, it is important to remain focused on health policy, not politics, to ensure that we stay united in our mission to protect and promote the importance of the surgical profession and quality surgical patient care. To be truly influential and ensure that surgery’s voice is heard at all levels of government, the ACS needs surgeons to participate in advocacy.
Participate in advocacy
At first glance, our government and its overarching structure can be overwhelming. The ACS DAHP exists to simplify these complexities by liaising with key federal and state entities, such as Congress, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Department of Health and Human Services, but the foundation of its success to leverage issues important to surgical patient care is heavily dependent upon ACS members. Hence, the ACS encourages all surgeons to engage in advocacy.
As noted, your experience as a trained specialist is one of the most effective tools in the ACS DAHP advocacy toolkit. Your stories provide realistic perspectives to key decision-makers in Washington, ultimately shaping the way policymakers and their staff interpret complex health care issues. To this end, among other priorities, the ACS DAHP strives to empower surgeons with the tools necessary to become more effective advocates. It is important to recognize that our advocacy network is only as strong as its members/advocates.
SurgeonsVoice is the ACSPA’s nationwide, interactive advocacy program bridging the connection between ACS members, key ACS advocacy priorities, and legislators. Although Fellows can contact the ACS DAHP to coordinate advocacy activities, SurgeonsVoice is designed to make interacting with colleagues and Congress easy. Because advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint, DAHP staff developed several resources to assist with your ongoing advocacy engagement.
SurgeonsVoice helps connects surgeons with their elected officials. Using the SurgeonsVoice action center to contact lawmakers in support of ACS advocacy priorities and schedule meetings with elected officials is a great place to start.
Respond to calls to action
Surgeons are encouraged to regularly visit the SurgeonsVoice Advocacy Center to learn more about and respond to new and updated calls to action in support of ACS legislative priorities. In the action center, surgeons will be prompted to send letters to Congress, including the option to edit and/or add personal anecdotes, to amplify surgery’s voice in Washington.
Meet with your legislators
Once comfortable contacting members of Congress, surgeons should consider scheduling meetings with lawmakers. Meetings, virtual or in-person, are effective in educating members of Congress and establishing mutually beneficial relationships with lawmakers and their staff. Regularly engaging with congressional offices as a trusted resource is essential to protecting issues of importance to ACS and surgical patients, with many lawmakers ultimately looking to surgeons, as experts, for guidance during the decision-making process.
Other advocacy activities
While responding to calls to action and scheduling meetings is a great first step, joining your colleagues in more formal advocacy settings is one of the most tangible ways to become more engaged and effective surgeon-advocates.
Get to know your lawmakers
Whether it be voting history or key committee assignments, understanding the role that your federal elected officials play in Congress is another essential component of becoming an effective surgeon advocate. For example, signing up for e-newsletters plus following and engaging via social media is a simple yet effective way to stay informed. Learn more about DAHP federal advocacy priorities
Like regularly visiting the SurgeonsVoice action center, the DAHP also encourages surgeons to routinely visit the ACS website to learn more about ACS advocacy priorities.
Become an HPAC member
The Health Policy Advisory Council (HPAC) is responsible for fostering an extensive grassroots network of surgeon-advocates throughout the country. Comprising a diverse group of ACS leaders, residents, Health Policy Scholars, Fellows, and others, the ACS relies on HPAC members to understand current advocacy priorities and help disseminate information to elected officials and the membership at-large. Learn more about the HPAC.
Attend the Leadership & Advocacy Summit
The annual ACS Leadership & Advocacy Summit is beneficial for any surgeons interested in learning more about advocacy and health policy. The Advocacy Summit is designed to highlight legislative priorities that the College is pursuing on behalf of its members while offering advocacy training to sharpen skills needed to establish and maintain relationships with lawmakers.
Follow @SurgeonsVoice on Twitter
Similar to getting to know your lawmakers through social media, surgeons should follow and engage with @SurgeonsVoice on Twitter to help amplify our collective industry voice. @SurgeonsVoice regularly tweets new and updated calls to action plus other timely news. Visit the SurgeonsVoice Twitter page to get started.
Advocate of the Year
The SurgeonsVoice Advocate of the Year recognition program highlights surgeon-advocates who perform “a cut above the rest” through their commitment to advocacy. The recipient is announced during the College’s annual Clinical Congress, featured in the Bulletin, and invited to participate in exclusive advocacy-related activities. Learn more about the Advocate of the Year recognition program, including previous recipients.
In addition to SurgeonsVoice, establishing the ACSPA enabled the ACS to form a PAC. The ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC, also known as SurgeonsPAC, works in conjunction with the DAHP federal legislative staff and surgeon-advocates to establish relationships with health care professionals and key policymakers in Congress.
Despite increased political polarization and additional scrutiny surrounding PACs, SurgeonsPAC continues to offer bipartisan support to members of Congress who share surgery’s perspective on health care policy issues, plus individuals well-positioned to advocate for ACS-supported priorities, particularly by supporting the election and reelection of health care professionals. To learn more about the role of political programs and the importance of engagement, read a July Bulletin article or log in to the SurgeonsPAC web page using your facs.org username and password.
The coronavirus 2019 pandemic highlighted our nation’s complex health care infrastructure and patients’ steadfast trust in health care professionals’ ability to provide quality, lifesaving care. It also revealed that surgery is stronger when united, and surgeon engagement in advocacy is essential to effect change. Are you ready to be the next Advocate of the Year?