Professional Pearls - NPX Newsletter Winter 2018
Advocacy Tips: Ten Steps to Make Your Next Legislative Visit a Success
By Shea Swick, R.Ph., PharmD
Advocacy is defined as the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending. It may be motivated from moral or ethical principles, or to protect an asset of interest. While we are fortunate within OPA to have a very strong legislative advocacy team, we need more pharmacists and student pharmacists to realize the power they hold in influencing the future of the pharmacy profession via advocacy efforts. We need more Ohio pharmacists to work toward protecting pharmacy, our asset of interest- our careers, our passions, and our patients. While there are multiple ways one can advocate, the most convincing and effective tends to be visiting the office of your legislator with the goal of educating, answering any questions, and forming a positive relationship. As it is a busy time of year in the Ohio Statehouse and legislative involvement is essential, below you will find a refresher on preparing for these visits.
- Confirm who your legislators are. Even if you think you remember your State Representative and Senator from last year, it is wise to double check as positions change, and your officials depend on your specific zip code. If you pull up www.ohiohouse.gov and www.ohiosenate.gov, you can easily confirm your legislators using the “Find Your Representative (Senator)” tool on the bottom left side of the home page. Input your zip code and your 4-digit zip code extension in the search box, which can be located easily through a USPS link.
- Schedule an appointment- and arrive on time. As much as showing up at your Representative’s office door ready to push your cause would make a statement, it could be viewed as abrasive and unwelcome. Always call the office to see what availability your legislator has and set up a time that you know you can comfortably arrive 10 - 15 minutes early. Legislators have jam-packed days, often with a dozen or more meetings, so your arriving early means a lot to them and their staff.
- Look the part. Professional dress is an absolute must in these meetings- appearance can make your first impression seem more refined, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. Tailored pants, collared shirts, and sharp blazers are the normal. Ladies can wear crisp, knee-length skirts or dresses with cardigans or jackets, as well. If you have second thoughts about an outfit, do not wear it and go with something you are confident in. Side note on ladies’ shoes- if desiring a heel, go with something sensible, or bring flats. I learned the hard way that 4-inch heels on Capitol Hill is not a wise decision.
- Do a “background check” on your legislator. Going into your meeting, you should know what party and overall views your legislator represents. Check to see if he or she is a known supporter of state pharmacy issues. If so, thank the member or staff for this support. Does your legislator sit on any committees pertinent to healthcare? If so, he or she probably has at least a basic knowledge of the issues. Knowing this information will allow you to adjust your message more appropriately.
- Talk to the staff member if your legislator is not available. Be sure to remember the name of the staff members who were present during the meeting. Ask for their business cards. These are the people that do a lot of the research and groundwork before legislators take a side on the issues, so it helps to be friendly with them!
- Be concise in your argument but add a personal touch. Keep your talk short and to the point, focusing on just a couple of big issues. Unless the legislator is on the right committee, don’t assume that he or she knows the bill- there are hundreds of issues crossing over a legislator’s desk week to week. Do not hesitate to use examples from your own experience that support an issue’s importance- often times, these stories are what stick with legislators and drive your point home. A good goal is to wrap up the meeting in 15 - 20 minutes, unless you are receiving a lot of additional questions and interest.
- Always be tactful and polite. Remain positive even if the legislator or staff seems rushed or less than interested in your issue. Life can be very hectic and demanding in the Statehouse, so do not take it personally and leave your visit on good terms.
- Listen closely. Take note of the specific words that were used in response to your questions on supporting an issue. No surprise, politicians are skilled at seeming supportive without making a commitment. There is a big difference in a vague “That sounds like an important issue” response and a definitive “I will support this issue.” This allows you to follow up with the office accordingly.
- Volunteer to be a resource. Your legislator and staff may not focus regularly on healthcare issues so you, as a new practitioner or student, could be a very helpful source of pharmacy knowledge. At the end of your meeting or in a follow-up email, offer your contact information to field any questions they may have. OPA provides access to great statistics and research so you can utilize the member website as a dependable source in communicating with your legislator.
- Follow-up with a thank-you letter. These really do go a long way in sealing the impression you made on the legislator or staff. While email is better than nothing, a handwritten note is worth the extra time. Your thank-you note should express appreciation, and should summarize your understanding of what the legislator or staff agreed to do (if anything), while briefly reiterating the importance of the issue.