Step it up

Top 7 advocacy tips: Savvy DOs and students share their wisdom

Looking to become a better voice for the profession? This is what seasoned advocates say you need to do.

This year’s DO Day on Capitol Hill participants had to compete with a snowstorm for their representatives’ attention. While not all participants were able to meet with lawmakers, attendees still found meaningful ways to advocate by creating videos, writing letters and taking their messages to social media.

Students and DOs attend DO Day not only to actively promote the profession’s goals, but also to hone their advocacy skills and pick up tips from their more experienced peers. To assist those who couldn’t make it this year, The DO asked four DO Day veterans for their top advocacy tips. If you’ve attended DO Day, you’ll still find useful info here to help you up your advocacy game.

1. Just do it

“Realize that you can’t rely on other people to advocate for you,” says Mark Mitchell, DO, an emergency physician from Chicago. “You have to take the initiative to just get out there and do it.”

Advocacy doesn’t always have to be face-to-face, notes Dr. Mitchell, who attended his second DO Day this month. Writing letters to lawmakers is also an effective way to quickly get a message out, Dr. Mitchell notes.

Dr. Mitchell suggests aspiring advocates start by visiting the AOA’s Grassroots Osteopathic Advocacy Link, which provides draft letters, email alerts, issue briefs and other advocacy materials.

2. Tap your elders’ knowledge

In addition to getting up to speed on the issues before attending DO Day or meeting with lawmakers, be sure to talk with your peers who have conducted these meetings before about their experience, suggests three-time DO Day attendee Christie Mun, OMS III.

“When you talk to people, you learn how to put a personal twist to your case,” says Mun, who attends the Midwestern University/Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine in Glendale. “It’s also important to have practice conversations either formally or informally, just to get the thoughts flowing.”

3. Get personal

Four-time DO Day attendee Alexis Cates, OMS IV, also advises speaking from the heart and sharing personal anecdotes that illustrate how policy affects you as a person.

“Don’t be afraid to give your personal stories about why you chose medicine and the burdens you face as a student going into the profession,” says Cates, who attends the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. “They want to hear those personal stories.”

For instance, one of Cates’ classmates trained at a teaching health center. The Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program, which provides federal funds for new residency positions at teaching health centers, expires at the end of the year. Cates’ classmate hopes to meet with or write to her representatives to tell her story and note that if the program isn’t extended, she might not have a place to train.

4. Organize

DO Day comes just once a year, but a great way to stay involved in advocacy—especially if you’re on the West coast or far away from the nation’s capital—is to hold grassroots events such as mass letter-writing campaigns, Cates says. Osteopathic medical students have the opportunity to mobilize a large number of their classmates on campus, she notes.

“You can really get first- and second-years involved in these,” she says. “They are usually at the schools more so than the third- and fourth-years. These are your new students. They don’t know much about what it means to be an advocate. This is a great way to introduce it to them.”

5. Look up your representatives

Make sure you know your representative’s and senators’ political affiliation and where they stand on the issues you’re advocating for, suggests Mun, who notes that your knowledge will help you alter your plans for the meeting accordingly.

“If they’re already in support of the issues that we’re lobbying for or advocating for, the conversation seems to go much more smoothly,” she says. “Sometimes you just need to give them a little personal story or tie it back to the community for them. Whereas, if they stand in opposition to what we’re talking about, the conversation can go in a very different direction, in which case it’s important to be very direct but also very polite and not argumentative.”

6. Build a relationship

Always follow up after a face-to-face meeting with a lawmaker, says AOA trustee Joseph A. Giaimo, DO.

“After DO Day, when you get back to your town, make an appointment to meet with your representatives when they’re on break, and go and see them in their offices,” says Dr. Giaimo, who attended his 10th DO Day earlier this month. “They’ll have more time to talk to you about topics, and you’ll be able to better develop those relationships.”

An added benefit of getting to know your representatives is that they may contact you when they need background information from a medical expert, he notes.

7. Focus on patient care

Although DOs and medical students are lobbying for laws that will benefit their profession, they are doing so in order to better serve patients, and they should remind representatives of this end goal, Mun says.

“We want something from lawmakers as DOs and osteopathic medical students, but what we want most is to benefit the people that we are serving, and that’s what I hope most politicians want as well,” she says. “We’re all trying to do what’s best for our whole community. That’s where I like to take the conversation in the end because regardless of where we stand on the issues, we all have the same overarching goal.”

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