Physicians have the power to influence Congress. Ready to become a physician advocate? Ready to help educate the nation about Physiatry? Seize the opportunity! Advocacy is about sharing your medical expertise, speaking on behalf of persons with disabilities, and educating our lawmakers about Physiatry.
Your elected officials need to hear from you! By communicating with a state legislator or a member of Congress, you can have a profound impact on the policies that most affect your practice, your patients, and the field. You can serve as an expert providing insight that would not otherwise be considered.
Physician advocacy can take place at any level: local (hospital, clinic), state, federal or international. Do not assume others understand the challenges that face our patients. It is incumbent upon us to provide them with the information they need to fully understand. As a physician advocate, keep the concerns and best interest of the patient at the core of all interactions. The importance of research funding and GME reform should all link back to the patient.
These Advocacy Pearls were created for you by the AAP's Public Policy Committee, Board of Trustees, and lobbyists Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP. From Sign-On Letters to Representatives of Interest, the AAP has excellent resources to stay up-to-date and involved in advocacy. Want to learn more about the legislative process? Check out our Advocacy 101 video.
How to Get Started
Find out who represents you. It is also important to find out who in the office handles health care issues for the legislator. Members of Congress have dedicated staff that are responsible for advising the members on health care issues; call your member’s office and ask who their Health Legislative Assistant is and get their email address.
Send an introductory email or letter. Provide information, such as AAP position statements, to educate legislators about the important role our specialty plays in your community, and what issues are important to us. Follow up with a phone call – a pattern of phone calls is even better! So, engage your colleagues.
Maintain contact with legislator’s office. Find opportunities to send positive articles and information about our field (e.g., press clips, success stories, AJPM&R) at least a few times a year. Your communication should always be directly with the legislative staff whenever possible. Stories about patients (respecting privacy) and their challenges are very impactful. Consider writing a letter to the District Office, an alternate approach to sending a letter or email to DC. Don't expect a reply to a letter: She/he may represent half a million people or more and responding to every single letter may not be possible.
How to Communicate Effectively
Depending on the urgency of the situation there are three primary methods of communication: emails, phone calls, and social media outlets. Email is the preferred method of communication but there may be a time when placing a phone call is important. Using social media outlets such as Twitter is becoming a very effect tool for influencing members.
Communicate clearly about relevant legislation – do not assume that they know where you stand (you must clearly state if you are FOR or AGAINST a piece of legislation). Always(!) thank the legislator for supporting any relevant legislation.
How to Prepare for an In-Person Meeting
In-person meetings are most effective! Prepare in advance by reviewing the AAP’s DOs and DON’Ts tips.
Request the meeting in writing then follow up by phone to confirm. Prepare materials to bring as "props" during your presentation (usually one-page talking points and a business card) and as a leave-behind for the legislator.
Do your homework in advance! Research the legislator's voting record and know whether he/she sits on any key committees that affect your issue. Visit the member's website and search online for useful background information.
Don’t be disappointed if your meeting is with a staffer or aide - this is still a fantastic opportunity. Congressional staffers have considerable influence on US government policy. Be kind with the staffers - they will listen!
Prepare with a colleague to help you feel comfortable and articulate your key points effectively. You can also watch our mock meeting with a legislator.
Tips for a Successful Meeting
Start with an introduction about yourself and the field of Physiatry. It’s great to state that you are a physician (4 years college, 4 years medical school, 4 years residency) dedicated to the care of the 20% of Americans with chronic disability.
If you are a constituent, make sure to thank the Congressman/woman/aide for his/her support in your state. It’s also helpful to thank him/her for support of other relevant topics.
Always be patient and positive, even if your Congressman/woman/aide is not aware of our field (or if you otherwise feel insulted). This is your opportunity to educate and illuminate!
Be cautious about how physicians are perceived by legislators. The impression of our main concern is often reimbursement rates. Keep our patients and their best interests at the heart of all advocacy efforts
Your Talking Points
Be succinct - their time is precious.
Be prepared to talk about key advocacy items, such as research or GME, without referring to the packet. It’s important to be passionate and engaging. Key advocacy points should end with a request for specific action from your legislator (such as support for or opposition to a specific bill).
If you cannot answer a question, a good answer is "I am not sure, but I will get the answer and either I or someone from my government relations team will follow up with you..."
A great talking point is the role of Physiatry in solving the national opioid crisis.
Share one or two data points, especially if they are local. The “State of the States” paper is helpful.
Share a story about a real patient that is moving or connects to your state in some way - this helps to engage the Congressman/woman/aide on an emotional level nd also highlights the impact of the field.
Is your mission medical education and the future of our field? Check out our Advocacy Video on GME.
Ask permission to take a photo with your Congressman/woman/aide after the meeting so you can share on social media and/or use in your follow-up.
End your meeting with a smile and a firm handshake. Make sure to get the business card of the person you meet with.
What to Do After Your Meeting
Send a follow-up email a few days after the meeting. The message should be brief, thanking the legislator or staff for his/her time and reiterating the issue/s and request/s. This is also an opportunity to answer any questions that you did not have an adequate response for.
Keep in touch with your legislator after the meeting to become a trusted resource! As suggested before, find opportunities to send positive articles and information about our field a few times a year.