Why Meet In-District?
To be an effective surgeon-advocate, nothing is more important than establishing personal relationships with members of Congress. Conversely, to a Member of Congress, there is nothing more valuable than the input and support from constituents (voters!). Meeting with policymakers and/or their staffs will be extremely valuable in advancing the overall surgical advocacy agenda and provide you with the opportunity to develop key contacts with your legislators.
All U.S. Representatives and Senators have one or more offices in their home district or state for constituent service, which serve as a readily accessible meeting point when they are home.
Typical dates of Congressional in-district work periods are:
- Presidents Day (mid-February)
- Easter/Passover (March or April)
- Memorial Day (late May)
- Independence Day (week of July 4th)
- Summer (August to Labor Day)
- Target Adjournment (early October)
If Congress has not officially adjourned in early October (as it often does not), additional work periods will include:
- Columbus Day (October)
- Veterans Day (November)
- Thanksgiving (November)
Congress will usually be adjourned for the month of December and reconvene after the New Year.
- Find your Representative’s and Senators’ websites, which supply in-district office contact information and preferred scheduling procedures. Keep in mind that each office is different. Senators have multiple offices across their state. To schedule an appointment, contact the office that is most convenient for you.
- Be sure to provide your name and contact information (including congressional district) and mention which issue(s) you would like to discuss. Let them know you are a surgeon and if you have met with them before.
- Persistence is key. Contact the scheduler in the legislator’s district office and tell them you are following up on a meeting request.
- Keep in mind that your legislators maintain extremely busy schedules when they are in their district. Meeting times, locations, and duration will vary.
- Once you have a meeting scheduled (or if you need extra help), please e-mail the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) staff at email@example.com.
Keys to a Successful Meeting
As a surgeon-advocate, your most powerful tool is frequent contact and meetings with your elected officials to offer your expertise to keep them informed on relevant surgical issues. Your personal experience as a surgeon brings a human perspective to the policy issues that members of Congress often only encounter as budget numbers and cold policy jargon. You must not forget; you represent a vote! Most policymakers, and their staff, will be grateful to have you—a constituent who brings an experienced perspective to what are often complicated issues. Your elected officials will view you as a reliable resource.
Use these tips to have the best possible meeting, which can lay the groundwork to develop mutually beneficial future relationships.
- Visit your Representative’s and two Senators’ websites. Taking some time to read their biographies, the issues they support, what committees they sit on, what leadership role they may have, and what caucuses they might sit on helps identify issues of key importance to each legislator. You can also sign up for their e-newsletters, which will keep you up to date on what your legislators are doing.
- “Friend” or “Follow” your Representative and Senators on social media. Many politicians rely on social media as a quick and easy way to get the word out to constituents. And it is a two-way medium—you can let them know what you think by responding to their posts.
- Know the issues. Before your meeting, review the position(s) you are trying to convey. Be focused, and don’t plan to talk about too much in one visit. Routinely read NewsScope and The ACS Advocate to keep abreast of the latest developments in health policy that affect surgeons and surgical patients. You may also research your legislator’s voting record to help you prepare for what issues you choose to discuss.
- Frame your issue in the context of your legislator’s viewpoint. Include real-life examples of how this particular legislation will help or hurt you, your patients, or your district.
- Always be clear with your legislator about what you want to them to do—in other words, have an “ask”! This step reinforces the importance of your communication and holds the legislator accountable. “Asks” range from sponsoring and supporting a bill to simply asking your legislator to keep in touch and use you as a resource as a constituent with expertise on health care issues.
- When you meet with a legislator, it is important to let the ACS DAHP know:
- What was the outcome?
- Did the legislator promise to do something?
- Did the legislator ask for more information that we can provide?
- Fill out the Meeting Evaluation Form.
Dos & Don’ts
- Learn about your legislators.
- Do your homework and stay on message.
- Bring relevant data and statistics.
- Take a photo of you with the legislator (if appropriate).
- Be flexible and prepared for appointment changes. Legislators’ schedules often change at a moment’s notice. Don’t be surprised if your meeting gets cut short, takes place in a hallway, or changes from a member meeting to a staff meeting.
- Be personal. Facts and figures are great, but don’t forget to convey your personal experiences as a surgeon. Put the issues you’re discussing into perspective for your legislators, and ALWAYS connect the issue to your district.
- Be helpful. Don’t be demanding—offer to be a resource for your legislator if they need any more information on how potential legislation will impact surgeons in the trenches. Many members of Congress have health care advisory groups that you may request to participate in.
- Feel free to say “I don’t know.” You may be asked questions you don’t know the answers to. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know, but will find out. Contact the DAHP for any additional information you need, and promptly follow up to be sure you receive it.
- Be respectful of staff. Don’t underestimate the power of meeting with health policy staff. They are often very knowledgeable and always advise the legislators on votes! Many staff are in their early-20s—don’t let their ages lead you to believe they are not extremely influential.
- Follow-up and through. Follow up with your legislator(s) a few days after the meeting to tie up any loose ends, thank them for taking the time to meet with you, and let them know you look forward to meeting again in the near future. If you offered to provide additional information, make sure you do it promptly. Let the DAHP know how your meeting went so we can follow up with their Washington, DC, staff.
- Contact the ACS DAHP for assistance, advice, and additional information!
- Discuss campaign contributions. The appropriate time to discuss campaign contributions is at a fundraiser, not a policy meeting. In fact, ethic rules prohibit your member of Congress and their staff from discussing their political campaign with you during this type of meeting.
- Include extraneous participants in the meeting. Meeting space is limited on Capitol Hill and in-district offices.
- Offer answers you don’t have. If there is an answer to a question that you do not know, always offer to find out and follow up. DAHP staff can provide you with the requested information or materials.
- Believe someone else is taking care of your advocacy.
- Be intimidated. Members of Congress are elected by the people and therefore they work for you, regardless of how you voted.
- Express partisanship. Members of Congress are required to help all constituents, regardless of political ideology.
- Forget to make your ASK. Members aim to please their constituents. Make sure they DO know what you want and offer options so that if one goal is not tangible, they may satisfy the other.
Sample requests for an appointment:
The Honorable XX
[District Office address]
Dear Senator/Representative XX,
As a constituent and surgeon, I am writing to request an appointment with [Senator/ Representative XX] in [name of town where nearest district office is] on [insert date and times available] to discuss [issue(s)].
Please contact me to let me know when the [Senator/Representative] or the relevant staff member might be available to meet. I will follow up with you in the next week by phone. Thank you for considering my request.
The Honorable XX
[District Office address]
Dear Senator/Representative XX,
My name is Dr. John Doe, and I am a surgeon in your district.
I would like to meet with you in your district office to discuss pending federal legislation that will affect how I am able to care for my patients—many of whom are your constituents. Specifically, I would like to discuss medical liability reform and the potential impact of H.R. 5 on my practice and on access to surgical care in our district.
Please feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 555-555-5555. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
John Doe, MD, FACS
Sample request to attend an event:
The Honorable XX
[United States Senate/U.S. House of Representatives]
[DC Office address]
Dear [Rep/Senator Name],
I am writing to invite you to a public forum we are hosting to educate patients in the [REGION] area about the _________. As a leader in supporting efforts to _____, I would be honored to have you attend and speak at this event.
The public forum will take place on [DAY], [DATE] at [TIME] at [LOCATION]. I would be happy to have you welcome the crowd and speak about the importance ______ in the [REGION] area and throughout [STATE]. Other speakers at the forum will include: [LIST FORUM SPEAKERS].
Please call me with any questions or comments you may have about this event at [xxx-xxx-xxxx or EMAIL]. I will call your office next week to follow up and provide you with more information.
Thank you again for your support. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.