A guest column by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, exclusive to KevinMD.com.
“I said, ‘Somebody should do something about that.’ Then I realized I am somebody.”
– Lily Tomlin
Each day, family, work and extracurricular activities all compete for our attention. They are positive aspects of our lives but can be overwhelming at times. When legislative or regulatory issues arise that might impact our profession or patient safety, it is easy to simply say “shouldn’t somebody do something about that?!” Sometimes we get angry when “someone” doesn’t “do anything about it” and the legislation or regulation doesn’t happen as we would have liked.
When it comes to protecting patients and our profession, I have realized that the “somebody” in question is “me.” If I don’t do something, who will? The answer is no one. Each of us could ask ourselves the same question and reach the same conclusion: we must each be that “somebody,” even if the actions we are able to take seem small.
There are countless opportunities to do something to protect patients, and further our calling as physicians. One of the easiest ways to make a difference is to get to know (and hopefully form relationships with) your district’s candidate or incumbent running for state legislature or Congress.
As you know, 2016 is an important election year. Every state, except Nebraska, has two legislative chambers, meaning there are 99 legislative chambers altogether. A whopping 86 of the 99 chambers are holding state legislative elections on November 8, 2016. Here are those numbers in a different, possibly mind-blowing way: there are 5,290 state legislative seats up for election this November. Additionally, there are 12 gubernatorial races this year, and these races determine who is in charge of crucial issues affecting the medical profession and health policy generally. At the federal level, 34 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats are up for election. And of course, we will also elect a new president in 2016. The opportunities to influence health policy are endless!
What if each one of us got to know our own district’s and state’s candidates or incumbents? For instance, if the 52,000 members of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), my own specialty society, forged relationships with state and federal candidates, ASA would arguably cover most of the state legislators and definitely all governors, congressmen and U.S. senators across the country. In turn for our efforts, hopefully, these candidates and incumbents would be comfortable contacting us as experts on health care issues and policy.
How do I become “somebody” to these candidates? Free time is hard to come by for all of us, but volunteering for a candidate can take as little or as much time as you want it to, depending on how you offer your services as a volunteer. Many candidates need volunteers to go door to door with literature or to make phone calls. If you are unable to spend your entire weekend or day off volunteering, call the campaign office (usually readily available through the candidate’s website) and say “I’m available on X date(s) from 2-4 p.m. (or other finite time period). How can I help?” The candidate’s campaign staff will typically give you a task to fill just that time period. Later on, when you visit a new lawmaker, you can truthfully say, “I volunteered for your campaign doing _______. I’m so glad you won and please let me be a resource for you and your staff on health care issues!”
Do you like to eat breakfast? What about brunch? Hosting a breakfast or brunch reception or fundraiser for your candidate of choice is probably the easiest (and least expensive) fundraiser there is. To make things easy, breakfast fundraisers can be held just about anywhere – your home, your office (with permission of your office or hospital, of course), or even at a local restaurant. If you host a fundraiser at your home, don’t feel like you must provide lavish food or drinks. The candidate is there to make contacts and pick up campaign contributions. Muffins, bagels, and coffee will suffice. Hosting a morning fundraiser also keeps prices low since no one expects alcohol early in the morning!
If you hold a fundraiser for a candidate, there is a chance that you might need to report this to your state election authority. A candidate’s campaign staff can usually help you figure out what (if anything) you must report. Usually, a fundraiser held by an individual or group is only reported by the candidate’s campaign. If you have any questions regarding this issue, please check with your state’s election authority which is usually the secretary of state.
In addition to forming relationships with your legislators and governors, you could also become one of your state’s legislative or regulatory watchdogs. By checking out your state legislature’s website and performing a keyword search, you can find the pieces of legislation that are going to be key for your profession in your state. Relay the bill numbers to your state specialty society and ask if they are taking action. If they are, how can you help?
Similarly, if you have interest in regulatory matters, you can frequently check your state’s board of medicine, board of nursing and department of health websites to find out what they are doing. Sometimes these boards prefer to circumvent the legislative process. We have seen this time and time again in many states. By consistently monitoring the board’s website, you could become a “Tim Howard” of the regulatory world and help block goals being made by opposition. Taking a “see something, say something” approach to monitoring your state legislatures and regulatory boards would definitely make you a “somebody!”
We are all in this together, but each of us has a part to play by actively advocating for our patients. While we do this every day in our practices, taking it to the next level and becoming that “somebody” who advocates beyond the doors of their clinic or hospital, can truly make you a hero to patients everywhere. You can be that “somebody!”
Erin A. Sullivan is an anesthesiologist.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com