American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

A Guide to In-District Meetings

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 input and support from constituents (voters!). Meeting with policymakers and/or their staff is extremely valuable to help advance the College’s surgical advocacy agenda and provide you with the opportunity to develop key contacts with your legislators.

In-District Meetings

All U.S. Representatives and Senators have one or more offices in their home district or state for constituent services, which serve as a readily accessible meeting point during in-district work periods.

Typical dates of Congressional in-district work periods include:

  • 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, additional work periods include:

  • Columbus Day (October)
  • Veterans Day (November)
  • Thanksgiving (November)

Congress also typically adjourns for the month of December and reconvenes in the New Year.

Scheduling Your Meeting

  1. Do your research. Every office is different, so be sure to identify your Representative’s and Senators’ websites, which offer in-district office contact information in addition to preferred scheduling procedures.
  2. Get to know the scheduler/staff. To schedule a meeting, contact the office that is most convenient for you. Provide the office with your name and contact information (including congressional district), a brief update on which issue(s) you are interested in discussing, notify them that you are a constituent, and a surgeon, and inform them if you have had any previous contact with the office.
  3. Follow-up and confirm. Contact the scheduler and let them know you are following up on a meeting request. Be brief but specific. i.e. My name is Dr. John Smith. I am a constituent of Rep./Sen. Washington and I am following up on a meeting request sent on July 26, 2017 to discuss Ensuring Access to General Surgery issues. Once scheduled, confirming your meeting details and time is equally as important.
  4. Be flexible. Members of Congress maintain extremely busy schedules, especially at home/in-district. Meeting details, locations, times, and durations will vary. Scheduling a meeting time and location convenient for the Member can help alleviate last minute scheduling changes.
  5. Utilize resources and support. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) staff is available to help coordinate a personal meeting or organize a site visit or facility tour. For scheduling assistance, please contact Michael Carmody. To express interest in delivering a SurgeonsPAC check at a local meeting or event, please contact Katie Oehmen.

Tips for Successful Meetings

Establishing yourself as a surgeon advocate is crucial to making your 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 surgeon, your first-hand expertise and training provide a realistic perspective on health policy issues that members of Congress often encounter via budget implications and reticent policy jargon. To that point, many lawmakers, particularly your elected officials, will look to you for guidance on complicated issues.

Utilizing the following tips can help lay the groundwork to develop a mutually beneficial relationship between you and your elected officials:

  • Get to know your member of Congress. Understanding your Representative or Senators background, key committee assignments, voting history, and/or relevant leadership roles or caucuses they sit on will help you establish a level of respect within an office. Visiting their website, signing up for e-newsletters or updates, and keeping up with issues they support are great ways to stay informed.
  • “Friend” or “Follow” your elected officials. In today’s social media driven sphere, politicians rely on Facebook, Twitter and other vehicles as easy, effective platforms to get their message across to constituents… and vice versa. Because social media is set up to engage an audience, you too can educate, praise, or respond to your elected official.
  • Know before you go. Similar to getting to know your congressperson, knowing your issue(s) and recognizing their position(s) on said matters is critical to framing your ask. Honing in on one or two key issues per visit and framing them in the context of your legislator’s viewpoint (examples of how x initiative will help or hurt you, your patients, or constituents) will help ensure your request is clear and that your representative/senator, or their staff, are more likely to follow-up and take action. Regularly browse NewsScope and The Bulletin, and visit SurgeonsVoice and SurgeonsPAC sites, to learn more about advocacy and health policy issues that have the potential to affect surgeons and surgical patients across the country.
  • Make the ask. Help policymakers help you! This step can make or break the future of your relationship with an office. Being attentive and respectful, but confidently reinforcing your ask goes a long way in helping hold an office accountable. Your ask should be clear and may include the following: sponsoring or cosponsoring a bill, extending a follow-up meeting, encouraging your contact to stay in touch and consider you a resource when it comes to health care specific issues, etc.
  • Provide feedback. Your feedback and questions are important to us.  In addition to completing a meeting evaluation form, the DAHP wants to know the following:
    • Was the office responsive?
    • Did the member of Congress agree to take action?
    • Did staff request any additional information?
    • Do you plan to schedule a follow-up meeting?
    • Anything else you care to share.

Meeting Dos and Don’ts

Do…

  • Be confident. You are the expert on issues pertaining to surgery.
  • Your homework and stay on message.
  • Be prepared. Bring relevant supplemental materials.
  • Photo document your visit, when appropriate.
  • Make the ask…and connect it back to the legislator and his/her constituents.
  • Remain extremely flexible. If it’s necessary to hold a five minute meeting in the hallway of the Rayburn House Office Building or your state capitol, so be it.
  • Be personal. Tell your story.
  • Offer to help. Serving as a trusted resource for your legislator is a great way to be invited back.
  • Acknowledge if/when you need to obtain more information. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know but can find out” vs. providing inaccurate data or misrepresenting an issue.
  • Get to know the scheduler/staff. Do not underestimate the power (or age) of the health policy staff. These individuals are key advisors to their bosses and often times educate them with regards to specific votes. 
  • Follow-up and through. Circle back with offices, ideally no later than one week after your initial meeting, to thank them and tie up any loose ends. If you offered to provide additional information, consider doing that within a day or two of your meeting.
  • Inform DAHP staff that you are meeting with an office so they can provide the background information, resources and tools you need for a successful meeting.

Don’t…

  • Be tardy. Hill offices are very small, busy entities so arriving on time (no more than five minutes prior to your meeting time) – vs. too early/late – is encouraged.
  • Discuss political contributions. It is illegal to disclose political activity or campaign/PAC contributions when discussing policy matters, especially inside a government office or building. Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations prohibit tying a specific ask to a political contribution.  Attending a local fundraiser or event is a great opportunity to present a check, thank a member of Congress for their leadership, and network with other health policy professionals.
  • Become emotional. Be proactive and anticipate long lines getting into the building, the likelihood of earlier meetings running late, potential for the Member/staff to disagree with your position, etc. If you are prepared for the chaos that is Congress, you will remain the calm, cool, collected expert in the room.
  • Expect the Member. Staff can be just, if not more, effective in championing your cause.
  • Be partisan. You are entitled to your personal political views, but when representing the ACS and ACSPA, we are surgery’s voice at the federal level a.k.a. bipartisan.
  • Believe someone else is your advocate. We need all College members engaged in advocacy and political efforts.

Sample Meeting/Event Requests

Sample Meeting Request

Date

The Honorable XX
Attention: Scheduler
[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.

Sincerely,

[Name]
[Contact information]


Date

The Honorable XX
Attention: Scheduler
[District Office address]

Dear Senator/Representative XX,

My name is Dr. John Smith, 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 johndoemd@email.com or at 555-555-5555. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

John Smith, MD, FACS
[home address]

Sample Event Request

Date

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.

Sincerely,

[Name]
[Contact Information]