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

Grassroots Guide

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Members of the ACS Northern and Southern California Chapter

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 their staff is extremely valuable to help advance the American College of Surgeons’ (ACS) surgical advocacy agenda and provide you with the opportunity to develop key contacts with your legislators.

In-District Meetings

Do your research. Every office is different, so be sure you get to know your member of Congress prior to your meeting.

Contact staff. Notify Congressional staff that you are a constituent, surgeon, and Fellow of the College, and what issue(s) you plan to discuss.

Follow-up and confirm. Be brief but specific. For example, “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 May 22, 2018, to discuss physician payment issues.” Once scheduled, confirming your meeting details and time is equally as important.

Be flexible. Members of Congress maintain extremely busy schedules, especially at home/in-district. Meeting details, locations, times, and durations will vary.

Utilize resources and support. The ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) staff is available to help coordinate a personal meeting, organize a site visit or facility tour, provide talking points, and more.

Tips for Successful Meetings

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 members of Congress. Understanding background, committee assignments, voting history, and relevant leadership roles your member of Congress participates in will help you establish a level of respect within an office. Regularly visiting their website, signing up for e-newsletters or updates, and staying informed about key policy priorities are great ways to remain educated.

“Friend” or “Follow” your elected officials. In today’s social media-driven domain, 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 issues and recognizing their positions 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. Regularly browse ACS publications like ACS NewsScope and the Bulletin and visit SurgeonsVoice.org and SurgeonsPAC.org 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! Being attentive and respectful while 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.

You are your best advocate. Do not believe someone else is your advocate. We need all College members engaged in advocacy and political efforts.

Meeting Dos and Don’ts

Do…

  • Remain confident. You are the expert on issues pertaining to surgery.
  • Your homework and stay on message.
  • Come 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. It may be necessary to hold a five minute meeting in the hallway of the Rayburn House Office Building or your state capitol. Make the most of this five minutes and thank the member for his or her time.
  • Bring a personal element. Tell your story or offer a real life example.
  • 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 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.

Do not…

  • Be tardy. Hill offices are very small, busy entities so arriving on time (no more than five minutes prior to your meeting time) 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 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 College and ACSPA, we are surgery’s bipartisan voice at the federal level.