As medical students and future physicians, each of us can think of an issue or concern that we wish would be handled differently. Often, though, we stop at wishing for change instead of doing something about it. For me, one of the things holding me back was that I simply didn’t know what to do. Luckily, it’s easy! I first got involved through our state ACEP chapter’s annual advocacy day. As a student, this was a quick and painless way to jump right in, talk about the issues, and learn from other physician advocates.
Here are some great tips I learned for talking with your congressmen:
Know your audience.
Who is your elected representative? Are they liberal, conservative, or moderate? What party are they affiliated with? What committees do they serve on? Doing a little research about your legislator will help you to know what to expect and where they likely stand on your issue. However, remember that even if they don’t support your current issue, they may back you up in future matters. Build a relationship with your rep.
Pick your focus.
Each time you communicate with your legislator, stick with a single issue and explore it in depth. Be sure that you know the issue well and back it up with facts. Be prepared to answer questions and counterarguments. However, don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answer – credibility is key! Check out www.acepadvocacy.org for resources and weekly updates about key political and advocacy topics.
Tell personal anecdotes.
Sharing a short, memorable story can be best way of highlighting how important the issue is to you. Show how the issue impacts your daily life, your practice, and your patients. Remember that your rep may not know what life in the ER is like – tell them!
Offer a solution.
What do you want your legislator to do? Tell them how they can help to resolve your concerns about the issue, whether it’s voting a certain way, sponsoring a bill, or communicating with an agency. If there is a specific piece of legislation, make sure you include the bill number.
Be persistent. Send a polite thank you letter, ask for updates, and follow up on any questions you couldn’t answer from your meeting. It is also a good idea to leave them with a concise handout summarizing your main points. Some issues take time, so don’t get discouraged!