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Become a member and receive career-enhancing benefits

Our top priority is providing value to members. Your Member Services team is here to ensure you maximize your ACS member benefits, participate in College activities, and engage with your ACS colleagues. It's all here.

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SurgeonsVoice and Grassroots Advocacy: Your Questions Answered

Katie Oehmen

June 1, 2022

SurgeonsVoice and Grassroots Advocacy: Your Questions Answered
  • Summarizes the importance of surgeons engaging with lawmakers
  • Illustrates effective strategies for grassroots advocacy
  • Addresses frequently asked questions regarding grassroots advocacy

In today’s increasingly special interest-focused political system, grassroots advocacy remains one of the most powerful, cost-effective, and often underused strategies available to organizations seeking to effect change. Broadly defined as the act of mobilizing individuals to influence public opinion and government action to achieve a shared goal, grassroots advocacy is driven by advocates “on the ground.”*

It is no surprise that organizations with skilled advocacy staff are more successful in achieving policy outcomes that benefit their overall mission. Equipped with policy, regulatory, and legislative experts, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) is no different.

However, what truly sets an organization apart from others inside the beltway is having members who play an active role in government. These members, also known as grassroots advocates, help bridge the gap between the organization’s federal lobbying team and congressional staff by sharing professional expertise and personal experiences on the issues that affect communities across the country. Ultimately, lawmakers listen to the concerns facing the constituents and voters who helped elect them and ideally are more motivated to act accordingly. At the end of the day, grassroots advocacy plays a critical role in informing policymakers’ perspectives.

Through the ACS Professional Association (ACSPA), ACS members can access the tools and resources they need to be successful grassroots advocates. Thousands of ACS members across the nation have risen to the challenge and engage in advocacy to advance ACS policy priorities in support of the surgical profession and, most importantly, in support of surgical patients.

Though the College seeks to make engagement easy for Fellows and surgeons at large, grassroots advocacy can be daunting. Thus, ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) staff are available to surgeons interested in learning more and participating in the College’s grassroots efforts. Addressing questions ranging from the value of advocacy—particularly the effectiveness of grassroots activity—to requests for more information on specific policy priorities, such as recent ACS-led efforts to reduce cuts to Medicare physician payment, the ACS DAHP works to assure surgeons that they are prepared to become involved and actively participate.

Following is a sampling of frequently asked questions.


What is grassroots advocacy?

Grassroots advocacy takes many forms. Examples of grassroots advocacy include writing letters, educating policymakers on specific issues, providing expert testimony before governing bodies, working with local, state, and federal agencies, and more. The purpose of grassroots advocacy is to demonstrate to policymakers that a particular issue has strong support among constituents.

Who are grassroots advocates?

Grassroots advocates are citizens who are passionate about an issue and interested in voicing their opinion to legislators and policymakers. Grassroots advocates help elevate awareness regarding specific issues at the local, state, or federal levels. By leveraging their voices through multiple mediums, such as email, social media, and other public policy forums, grassroots advocates can effectively motivate change.

How do grasstops advocates differ from grassroots advocates?

Grasstops advocates are seasoned grassroots experts who mentor peers and colleagues to encourage participation. They have preexisting relationships with their lawmakers, staff, and local organizations, and serve as trusted advisors.

Who are my elected officials, and how can I learn where my lawmaker stands on a specific issue?

Becoming educated about members of Congress, their backgrounds, committee assignments, voting history, and relevant leadership roles can help provide a better understanding of issues of importance to them. To identify and learn more about your legislators, visit the SurgeonsVoice Advocacy Center and select “My Officials” from the dropdown menu.

How can I find out whether the ACS is working on issues that affect me?

The College’s advocacy activities at the federal and state levels are established to represent interests of surgeons and surgical patients. Fellows are encouraged to regularly review issue briefs, position statements, find information regarding ACS advocacy and health policy priorities, and more at facs.org/advocacy or by emailing ahp@facs.org.

Do letters and calls to congressional offices really make a difference?

Absolutely. Writing and calling your lawmakers helps their staff become more educated about an issue and allows them to recognize that an issue is a priority to their constituents, especially for federal lawmakers who do not live in their districts full time.

How many letters or calls does it take to make an impact?

Each office is different, but unquestionably strength in numbers is key to effecting change. The more inquiries an office receives, the further the issue moves up the chain of command. Consistently communicating with your lawmakers further ensures your priorities are heard.

After sending a letter through SurgeonsVoice, why do I receive a generic response that does not necessarily address the issue raised?

Each office has a process for responding to inquiries. Each member of the House of Representatives serves roughly 700,000 constituents, so many have generic templates or form responses, simply to manage the sheer volume of constituent correspondence. This is standard operating office procedure. Do not be offended if you receive a response that refers to you by first name, instead of addressing you as “Dr.” And remember not to be discouraged if you receive a response that is delayed or less specific than you expected. Instead, use it to your advantage as an opportunity to follow up, establish rapport, and serve as a trusted resource.

Who answers the phone when I call a congressional office?

Typically, an intern or a staff assistant is responsible for answering the main office line. If you call the office directly, state your name, ask to speak with the health legislative assistant or another health policy staffer, and be prepared to briefly convey the reason for your call. Offices may receive hundreds of calls a day, so it is likely you will be asked to provide a callback number. Staff are trained to catalog constituent outreach, sometimes in as little detail as possible on an issue.

Does my member of Congress want to hear from me?

Constituent feedback is critical to policymakers. Because federal lawmakers spend much of their time in Washington, DC, they are eager to hear from constituents about issues facing the communities they were elected to serve.

Personally, I do not agree with my representative’s or senators’ position on many issues. Why should I contact their office on behalf of the ACS?

Advocating on behalf of all surgeons and surgical patients through the ACS is essential, which is why it is necessary to put your personal politics aside in order to effect change.

What is a grassroots campaign?

Issues listed in the SurgeonsVoice Advocacy Center are considered grassroots campaigns. It is important to remember that only ACS-supported advocacy priorities that Congress is considering at present will appear in the Advocacy Center. These campaigns typically include an “ask”, such as requesting that the legislator cosponsor legislation, sign a letter, include ACS-supported policy proposal(s) in must-pass legislation, and so forth.

What is a “call to action”?

When lawmakers need to hear from their constituents to elevate a legislative priority, the ACS issues a “call to action” to encourage Fellows and other ACS members to contact their federal lawmakers. Calls to action may be urgent, ongoing, or involve efforts to thank legislators for their support. Surgeon advocate participation by responding to or answering various calls to action is imperative.

Calling, writing, and engaging with lawmakers via social media are the most common ACS-led calls to action. While it may appear an issue campaign remains unchanged, rest assured the SurgeonsVoice Advocacy Center is updated regularly to reflect current congressional activity.

How do I know if I have taken part in a campaign or if I need to take further action?

At present, ACS DAHP staff assistance is required to learn more about your personal activity history, including whether you have acted on specific campaigns. If you have questions about your personal activity history, contact ACS DAHP staff.

It is okay to respond to a campaign or call to action more than once. In fact, it is encouraged, because engaging early and often helps raise the profile of an issue.

How can I request a meeting with a congressional office?

Use the “Schedule a Meeting” tool via the SurgeonsVoice Advocacy Center.

I am not social media savvy. How can I engage?

To review brief snippets of advocacy and health policy-related information, follow @SurgeonsVoice on Twitter. For further engagement, use social media to connect with your colleagues and lawmakers, and help elevate surgical priorities through this more public forum. Nearly all congressional offices have staff who monitor social media accounts, which can lead to broader awareness about important issues.


As evidenced by 2021 ACS-led efforts to reduce cuts to Medicare physician payment, surgeon involvement in advocacy is vital. Advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint. It can feel like a daunting space, but it is essential to protect surgical patients and the profession. Surgery continues to face many challenges, which is why a collective voice is increasingly critical. Participating in ACS advocacy and political activity is strongly encouraged and essential to maintaining a commitment to surgical patients and the communities surgeons serve.


*Hall B. Giving voice: The power of grassroots advocacy in shaping public policy. Views from the field. Grantmakers in Health. November 15, 1010. Available at: https://www.gih.org/files/usrdoc/Grassroots_Advocacy_Sunflower_Foundation_November_2010.pdf. Accessed March 25, 2022.