The recent elevation of our colleague Dr. Andy Gurman to the presidency of the AMA is the culmination of the journey of a solo hand surgeon in a rural area to the pinnacle of leadership in the medical profession and has drawn attention to the overall issue of advocacy among hand surgeons. Some of you may still be angry at the AMA for its position on the ACA and other issues, but please consider that the AMA is evolving from an organization run by primary care physicians to one that has significant specialty representation. Like it or not, the AMA is still viewed on Capitol Hill as representing you as a physician. If you are not a member, you are delegating your voice to the people who are involved in the organization.
There are several ways to become an advocate in our political process at the federal, state and local levels. Although you may feel that advocacy by doctors is ineffective and a waste of time, it is very clear that things could be a lot worse than they are now if not for the efforts of doctors and their organizations in the process. There are a few avenues for you to consider if you are interested in doing your part to advocate. I have listed these from easy to difficult:
- Joining and participating in your national, state and local organizations and their PACs
- Contacting your legislators about specific issues
- Supporting politicians friendly to your positions
- Developing personal relationships with your representatives
- Running for political office!
The easy way to participate in advocacy is to support the organizations already charged with representing you at federal, state and local levels. For me this ends up being about 13 different organizations, including PACs amounting to approximately $5,000/year in personal financial support from me. The organizations include my specialty organizations at all levels, my state and county medical societies, and the AMA, as well as the PACs associated with these. Other than the PACs, the dues are paid with pre-tax dollars, and I consider these funds part of my overhead. Anyone with a little energy and/or passion can get involved either superficially or deeply in these organizations as a committee member or in a leadership role. ASSH has representation in a number of other organizations and is always looking out for your best interest.
Another way to help with advocacy is to communicate with your elected officials by email or phone on issues important to you. These emails and calls are logged and counted and are definitely considered by the member of the legislature, especially if you live in their district. This is very easy to do via votervoice.net/AMA/home. This is often how you would respond to a “call to action” from one of our organizations. When you call, you will usually be talking with staff, who are generally young people who are interested in politics and frequently from the representative’s district. Many of them are very well-educated and can help a lot with your issues.
Supporting politicians friendly to your views is critically important and usually boils down to money. All the politicians I know are, unfortunately, very dependent on campaign contributions and, as you know, are constantly asking for money. They care the most about their constituents but are also very responsive to political action committees. It is important not to give money to politicians anonymously on their website or to mail them a check without either “batching” it with other checks from doctors, hand-delivering it to their district office together with a meeting, or, even better, participating in a fundraiser as an attendee or a host. AAOS has a lot of information about hosting fundraisers (https://vimeo.com/aaos/review/133342729/a56689440e) or you can contact me directly if interested. This is not difficult and the politicians never forget it if you’ve raised money for them.
There has been some recent controversy about whether personal relationships matter. I think anyone who has been active in the political arena will tell you that relationships are very important. I can give you several examples of a personal phone call to a politician which changed the course of an issue that would have been very painful for all of us. If you are willing to do this, getting to know your local, state and federal officials is not too difficult. If each of you knows who your representatives are, that’s a start. They want to know what you think and in some cases will give you their direct contact information. Having their cell number and personal email is extremely helpful. Many of you have patients who are politicians. They really want to know what you think. They may not always vote the way you want but many times I have heard them say that they haven’t heard from many doctors. Please do not assume that someone else is contacting them!
I won’t cover running for office except to say that there are a lot of resources, workshops, etc. available to any of you who are interested.
I hope I have convinced you that standing up for your point of view is not a waste of time. Please don’t leave this to others. After all, it is your business and your livelihood!