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How to be an Advocate

There is a lot going on in the world around us, and many of us in healthcare are left feeling a little helpless - so some thoughts:



What IS Advocacy


Advocacy means many things to many different people. As health-related professionals, advocacy is an essential piece of caring for our patients. If we cannot amplify our patients' voices in the halls that make legislation, who will? No one is better equipped, placed, or qualified than providers to bring health policy concerns to the attention of lawmakers.


Of course advocating for our patients can be challenging. Certain workplaces may have rules regarding political participation, but we argue that if your practice is impacted by politics, you have a right, if not a responsibility, to get involved. We know that providers are overburdened with administrative tasks and active patient care without the time or energy to spare hours digging through proposed legislation or write public comments regarding regulation. Fortunately, there are easier ways to get involved. In an era where all providers are being put at risk with recent legislative and judicial decisions, it's time we as a profession speak up.


Check out these videos about communicating with policy makers from the policy makers themselves and from experts in the field here, and here.


Protesting

Taking part in public demonstrations can be challenging in multiple ways - especially with respect to rules from your organization. If you feel comfortable, join local protests! A large movement started in 2020 was White Coats for Black Lives, in which physicians protested and demanded action against the racism public health crisis. This year, most major cities hosted pro-choice and reproductive rights protests. These are easy ways to get out, add your voice to the crowd, and show lawmakers how you feel about a specific issue as a collective.


Social Media

This is also an area to be careful - remember that your digital footprint is forever! Employers also monitor social media and may have strict personal standards. It’s always a good idea to make it clear wherever possible that views are your own and not your organization’s. Always be respectful in your tweets and responses - while you may not agree with a certain politician’s point of view, you won’t see productive change come from trolling. Ted Cruz has famously checked his Twitter on the congressional floor


Letter Writing

Letter writing can add nuance that is not quite possible when protesting; however, it can be more time consuming. Always address your letters to both federal and state representatives - a lot of policy is developed at the state level and it is vital to not forget your state legislature. Many may think this is a waste of time given that in our broken two party system, each party is expected to vote a specific way on certain issues. While this is partly true, there are a lot of bipartisan bills out there, and offices HAVE to take notes on how their constituents feel about specific issues. So while it may feel like an exercise in futility, health policy advisors to many senators have reminded us that the other side is writing, and we must do the same to make our voice heard.


Though you can always craft your own letters (a how to available here), many organizations provide letter templates that make it easy for you to add your name and personalize the message however relevant before you send it. If you have personal stories or anecdotes, we always recommend plugging them in to a template to make it more personal. BMGC itself has developed several letter campaigns available for your use on a wide range of topics (Racism, Reproductive Rights, Student Loan Forgiveness)


Writing Op-Eds

Writing Op-Eds on health policy changes is also an effective way to publicize and share your knowledge on issues that affect your patient population. Op-Eds can be submitted to local papers as well as larger national publications. We always recommend starting with local outlets and working your way up to larger publications. Check out these lectures and the information from the Op-Ed Project on details and tips for how to write a strong Op-Ed.


Meetings

One of the most time consuming advocacy practices is having face-to-face meetings with legislators. These meetings can occur at the state level at state capitals, or at the federal level at either local or Washington, D.C. offices of legislators, depending on the season.


This can understandably seem like a daunting process, but we have tips to make it easier.

  • Join professional organizations which advocate for your causes - many medical organizations have specialty-specific professional advocacy arms which do Hill Days and dig through legislation for you!

  • You can also support and join cause-specific organizations for advocacy information and participate in their pre-planned protests or advocacy days

Many of these meetings are well planned through groups who will make the appointments, create the talking points, and develop a leave behind so that you do not have to. Joining your professional organization is an excellent way to stay tuned with what is happening from the policy side of your work, and a great way to get involved.


Do not forget your state offices! You are represented by these politicians, which means they have home offices near you. You can always schedule meetings locally to address certain issues. Traveling to your state capital to speak with your state legislator is always an avenue, as is attending city council meetings to talk about more upstream health issues.


Many of the public health declarations over the last few years have been made because of LOCAL advocacy. Meet with your city council and mayor! (Check out our piece on Racism is a Public Health Crisis)



A group of local leaders meeting with the mayor of Dayton, OH to declare racism a public health crisis, a declaration which was made with specific policy proposals a few days after the meeting.







ALWAYS

  • Set an agenda for your writings and/or meetings. Identify specific policies you want to address

  • Use stories (either from your practice or your personal life) - both you and your patients are the politicians’ constituents - if you are sharing their problems and challenges, politicians have to listen!


Other

Donating money to organizations that support your values is always an option. Many organizations out there are already doing the work that you may be passionate about and would greatly benefit from you contributions. It can be a professional organization, a cause related organization, or the campaign of a lawmaker who supports the policies you are hoping to push through.


A Personal Example:


I recently had the opportunity to attend the American College of Physicians (ACP) Leadership Day. The ACP represents internal medicine physicians and their subspecialties. The range of interests is broad, but ACP has a policy committee which digs through proposed Congressional legislation and regulations and prioritizes bills that address ACP priorities. For this leadership, we addressed: Access to Care, Mental Health, Prescription Drug Pricing, Primary Care and the Physician Workforce, and Pandemic Health Preparedness.


The first day we had several briefing sessions to prepare for the meetings, received policy updates on where Congress stood in the big picture, and learned how to use the app prepared for our advocacy day. The second day was a whirlwind of mostly in-person meetings with Ohio’s representatives. We discussed several of ACP’s policy priorities and the specific bills they requested the members to cosponsor vs vote for. Many meetings were held with the representative’s legislative aides, who took notes and asked questions. Certain meetings were attended by the members themselves, who asked more questions and provided more support or pushback on certain issues. Other meetings were virtual due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Overall it was a very productive day discussing health policy issues which would help us take care of our patients back at home.



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