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Lessons in effective state advocacy: Three important tips


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This article is part of an ongoing series from the American Association of Clinical Urologists (AACU), based on a partnership between the AACU and Urology Times. Articles are designed to provide updates on legislative processes and issues affecting urologists. We welcome your comments and suggestions about topics for future articles. Contact the AACU government affairs office at 847-517-1050 or info@aacuweb.org for more information.

Drive for show, putt for dough. This golf axiom contends that loud and long drives give a golfer confidence and might make him the envy of his peers. Even a duffer, though, knows that consistent and successful putting can mean the difference between a club championship and missing the cut.

Whether you wear a green jacket or a white coat, this framework also applies to federal and state legislative advocacy. The president and Congress garner the bulk of media coverage and campaign cash, and set the national agenda. Federal activity is no doubt important, but, like a 350-yard drive, often overemphasized.

State legislators rarely appear on CNN and spend relatively little money campaigning. But like putting, the swiftness and severity of their actions can mean the difference between a healthy environment for urology or disaster.

I spent 6 years in the Ohio Senate, 3 of those years as a senator’s chief legislative aide. I can say with certainty that the time and energy a physician invests in advocating their issues at the state level provides the quickest payoff and largest return.

Your state association, large practice, or hospital probably has a hired lobbyist or two in your state capitol. This is a requirement in 2012 and I would be concerned if you didn’t have professional representation. However, almost nothing can affect a legislator or his or her staff like an engaged constituent who will be affected by their decisions. With that I offer you three important tips for successfully advocating your profession at the state level: Be accommodating. Be collegial. Be a resource.

Be accommodating. Urologists are very busy doing lifesaving work and this is lost on no one. But legislators are busy too. If you write, call, or invite them to visit your practice, be understanding if you don’t get an immediate response. A pervasive misrepresentation is that legislators simply sit around and collect a paycheck. Scrutinizing their votes and statements is a favorite American pastime, of which I am a willing participant. But after witnessing first hand their strenuous routines of travel, fundraising, and work, lazy isn’t a term I can use to describe most elected officials.

Be collegial. It’s important to sideline your ego and focus on the specific issue at hand. Legislation to restrict access to integrated urologic care may make your blood boil. However, legislators and staff know how much money you earn; proclaiming such a ban is criminal won’t get you any sympathy. By informing them that a cut in your pay will lead to layoffs and a reduction in quality care for their constituents, you won’t just get their attention, you can inspire them to act on your behalf. Finally, be respectful of the other side. You may vehemently oppose an opponent’s policy, but inferring nefarious motivation is tactless and won’t get you anywhere. The staff person’s next meeting or calls after yours could be the supporters of the bill I mentioned above.

Be a resource. As a former underpaid, underappreciated legislative aide in an office totaling three (including the senator), I often found myself short on time and resources. Offer your expertise with or without prompting; make it your mission to educate both staff and legislators alike. Anecdotal evidence is vital along with data and position papers, which are readily available through your state society as well as the AACU.

Forging relationships with unheralded state legislators and their staff isn’t the most glamorous undertaking. Leveraging these friendships to protect your patients, employees, and practice from harmful legislation isn’t thrilling. But you’re a urologist, not a movie star, and in 2012, circumstances require that you be your own best advocate.

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