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Why Advocacy No Longer Feels Stressful: Lessons from the Hill

  

Stepping outside of our comfort zone to engage in political advocacy can be daunting. After years of meeting with lawmakers, I've finally learned how to make the most of my visits to Capitol Hill. By Asha Padmanabhan, MD


I recently returned from legislative visits to Capitol Hill as part of LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE, the American Society of Anesthesiologists' annual advocacy event. Each May we head to Washington, D.C., to meet with our state's legislators and discuss pressing healthcare issues, particularly those affecting anesthesiology.

In the past, I would feel a significant amount of anxiety leading up to these visits. As physicians, we are trained to excel in our field. We aim to be thoroughly knowledgeable and ready to provide precise answers, which can feel overwhelming. The stakes felt incredibly high because they were. Our discussions with legislators have the potential to shape policy and impact our profession for years to come.

I would spend weeks preparing. I can remember obsessively memorizing bill numbers, talking points, and hot topics to ensure I was prepared for any question that might come my way. I’d pore over every piece of information, memorizing the details of every bill and the specific points we needed to discuss.  The night before each meeting was sleepless, filled with nerves and a deep-seated fear of failure. What if I forgot a key point? What if I couldn’t answer a question? 

It was hard to shake the feeling that I was stepping into a world where I didn’t quite belong. Politics and legislature are not my wheelhouse. It’s not what I enjoy or even like. But I kept pushing myself to go because I knew it was necessary. Our profession, our livelihood, depended on these conversations. We needed to advocate for ourselves and our patients, and I was determined to do my part, no matter how uncomfortable it made me.

Over the last few years, as I started to get more comfortable, I realized something profound. It wasn’t important to memorize everything. Our staff does a wonderful job preparing handouts that cover all the key points. These handouts are left behind after our meetings, ensuring that the legislators and their aides have all the information they need. What truly matters is having a conversation, a real, human-to-human interaction.

Legislators and their aides may not fully understand the nuances of what we do, but they are usually willing to learn. Our role is to share our expertise in a way that they can understand and relate to. We are the experts in the room when it comes to anesthesiology, and our insights are invaluable. This realization took a huge weight off my shoulders. I no longer felt the need to have every detail memorized. Instead, I focused on communicating the essence of our concerns and the importance of the issues at hand.

Now I go into the meetings with an open and curious mind, willing to listen to their perspectives, understand where they were coming from, and offer my own insights, even when I respectfully disagree. This approach makes all the difference. Instead of feeling like a stressful exam, the meetings become engaging and productive discussions.

This human connection, this willingness to listen and learn from each other, is at the heart of effective advocacy.

Advocacy is not just a duty; it’s a privilege. As physicians, we have a unique perspective and expertise that can significantly influence healthcare policy. Our voices matter. But I understand why many physicians shy away from advocacy. It takes us out of our comfort zones. It requires us to engage in unfamiliar territory and feel the pressure to be perfectly knowledgeable. This can be intimidating, especially when we are so accustomed to being the experts in our field.

However, it’s precisely because of our expertise that our voices are so crucial in these discussions. Legislators rely on us to provide insights and information that they might not otherwise have. By stepping up and participating in advocacy, we can ensure that policies are informed by those who truly understand the impact on healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.

I encourage all my colleagues to get involved in advocacy. You don’t need to be a political expert or memorize every detail. What matters is your willingness to share your insights and engage in conversations that can drive meaningful change. These discussions are an opportunity to educate and influence policymakers, ensuring our profession is well-represented and understood.

One takeaway I’d like to emphasize is that the power of advocacy lies in our ability to connect with others on a human level. It’s not about having all the answers but about sharing our experiences and expertise in a way that resonates with others.

Advocacy is not easy, and it may never be entirely comfortable. But it is necessary, and it is worth it.


Asha Padmanabhan, MD, FASA, is a board-certified anesthesiologist currently working as an independent physician in Florida. She is an active member of several committees of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, holding leadership positions including Chair of the Committee for Women Anesthesiologists and President of the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists. She is also a Physician Leadership and Career Coach. Find her on LinkedIn.


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ASA Community Blog is published as a benefit for ASA members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributing writers only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ASA.

Comments

2 days ago

Excellent advice - thank you for sharing!