By: Frances Gill
Last year in 2017, as the Tulane University AMSA chapter Advocacy Chair, I flew to Washington, D.C., for the AMSA National Convention’s Advocacy Day to lobby Louisiana’s representatives—Senators Cassidy and Kennedy, especially—in favor of preserving the Affordable Care Act.
Lobbying? The Hill? Arguing with an authority figure? All this was brand new to me, and I’ll admit I was more than a little nervous.
But the AMSA Advocacy Day organizers really set you up for success. After we all convened in the Senate building, the day began with a lecture on lobbying how-to’s, delivered by professional lobbyist Matt Wellington who works for U.S. Public Interest Research Group. He gave us some great tips for a good legislative visit, like the importance of persuasion–as opposed to pressure–and of building long-term relationships–rather than burning bridges.
After, we split into four groups based on the topic we’d picked to lobby for: the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), funding for Planned Parenthood, or medical student debt. In our small groups, we spent some time training for the visit, going over possible rebuttals to any arguments we could foresee, and in my case, going over state-specific consequences for the repeal of the ACA. (Louisiana, for example, would see about a half a million people lose coverage if the ACA is repealed). Then I spent an hour walking around the Senate building Snapchatting.
For the visit, I was partnered with a wonderful fourth-year medical student from University of Queensland-Ochsner Clinical School. She was there to argue against the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and I was to talk about the ACA. First, we met with Senator Bill Cassidy’s office. The staffer we spoke with was kind, receptive, and engaged. We spent about forty minutes talking to her. By no means am I an expert on the ACA or health policy, but by staying aware of what’s going on in the news, listening to people who are smarter and better informed (thankfully, Tulane is full of those!), and participating in the AMSA training that morning, I was able to offer up a decent rebuttal to most of her criticisms of the ACA. The point of that is not to brag, but just to say: if I can do it, anyone can.
We also met with Senator Kennedy’s office. He’s a new senator, so his office—a temporary one—was in the basement. Again, the staffer we spoke to was warm, kind, receptive, and interested to hear what we had to say. She also expressed a hope that she might be able to positively influence the American health care system via her own chosen profession.
Kennedy and Cassidy are both Republicans, and although I didn’t leave either of those meetings feeling as though I’d changed anyone’s mind, I’d had a positive conversation with two people who disagreed with me very strongly, and I’d made my voice heard. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to participate in AMSA’s National Advocacy Day because I learned how medical trainees can use their skills building relationships with patients in a new way– with elected officials speaking to issues that impact everyone.
Frances Gill is a second-year medical student in the combined MD/MPH program at Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is the AMSA National Women’s Advocacy Coordinator and the Advocacy Chair of her local AMSA chapter.
Sign up here to join us on Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day at AMSA’s 2018 Annual Convention and Exposition, to be held March 8-11, 2018, in Washington, D.C.