Ask most healthcare professionals—from the pediatrician to their administrative assistant—why they choose the field of healthcare and they will inevitable say it was because they have a passion for helping people. This passion is the reason healthcare people are in a great position to affect policy through advocacy (be it on a community level or a national scale).
Advocacy work doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. A little education and effort can go a long way. Here are five quick steps to becoming an effective health policy advocate.
1. Identify your issue
It’s important to work on an issue that gets you excited, where you would have passion for making change. You should also seek an issue that leverages your experience and one that you feel comfortable talking about. It also helps to have a clear understanding of the prevalence of the health issue and what treatments or services are needed for improvement.
2. Connect with others
Find others who share a passion for your issue. Start with other healthcare professionals, families of patients or consumers, neighbors or friends. Sign up for a few email lists related to this issue. Be on the lookout for local issue-specific coalitions to join. Often, coalitions will have the necessary infrastructure in place to amplify the impact of your efforts.
3. Create a plan
Ask yourself the following questions and devise an advocacy plan based on your answers.
- Where can I make the most impact?
- What systems influence my health issue? Should I intervene at the town policy, school policy, or state policy level?
- Do I want to change an existing policy, support a change by others, propose a new policy, or block a harmful policy?
- Do I, or anyone I know, have existing relationships with media or decision-makers that I can leverage?
4. Develop your message
Before you start having conversations or writing articles about your issue, it’s a good idea to develop your message. To make a compelling case you’ll need a story that illustrates the issue. For example, your message could talk about a particular patient and how policy change would change his or her life. Support the story with statistics that demonstrate the magnitude of the issue, why it’s important, and how it affects health, economics or quality of life. Once you have your basic message down, you’ll want to practice tailoring it to the different segments of people you will be contacting. It should resonate with their interests and beliefs and be actionable by addressing what that person can do to get involved and make change happen.
5. Deliver your message
There are several ways to broadcast your message to your audience. Here are a few to consider:
- Leverage existing relationships with public officials or decision-makers in your community. Talk to them about your issue and proposed change(s).
- Write a letter or email to the editor of your local newspaper or an article for your professional association’s newsletter or website.
- Speak at community forums and events attended by people who influence policies on your issue.
- Set up a booth in your office or at a community event to highlight the issue and provide information for how others can get involved.
- Vote on policies and for politicians who support policies and issues you believe in.
Interested in learning more about becoming an advocate for change in your community? Check out NICHQ's online Obesity Advocacy Training Course.