Sometimes we meet people in unexpected places. That is what happened when I finally met with my Illinois state representative, Rep. Sonya Harper.
I wanted to meet my representative because there was a major scope battle underway in Illinois at the time. As a board member of the Illinois Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (ISEPS), it was time to touch base with my local representatives.
I had never reached out to or met a representative before. There were some things I thought about what to expect, but I did not realize how different the experience would be from what I had imagined.
When I called Rep. Harper to arrange a meeting, I had some difficulty at first. The office she normally worked out of was being remodeled. But I talked with her assistant and set up a meeting with her a week or two later.
To my surprise, her assistant requested that I meet with her during “office hours” in the Whole Foods café on the south side of Chicago. It’s a place I go to frequently, but not a location that I pictured being the venue for political discussion.
It turned out, she was having meetings there all afternoon! Politicians also have to make things work when their offices are being remodeled.
We talked about the scope of practice battle in Illinois. It was interesting to share the basics with her. She understood that the place where people go to get glasses in the strip mall shouldn’t be where eyelid surgery is being performed.
Harper also seemed to connect with the idea that even though most optometrists may not want to do eyelid surgery, if the optometrist works for a corporation that may profit from having them do surgery, many of them may be required by their managers to do procedures because it could improve the business’ bottom line.
A few months later, I made the trip down to Springfield, Ill. to spend time at our state capitol and check in with my representatives. The day was busy, heading into and out of committees, offices and the house and senate floors.
Our ophthalmology lobbyist and I managed to track down several elected officials who were supportive of our cause, including Rep. Harper. She made time to talk with us and generally catch up. We even talked about our original Whole Foods meeting. What I realized is that personal relationships are so important. It’s not just talking about our issue of the day, or how we want the representative to vote on a particular issue – politics is about having conversations and sharing thoughts and ideas. It is about building lasting relationships.
Although the experience I had meeting my representative wasn’t exactly what I expected, it was enlightening, and I am excited to continue to build relationships with my elected officials. The connections we make as constituents are important, and as ophthalmologists we all have opportunities to build these relationships and be advocates for our patients and our profession.
Be available to your representatives for any type of advice on medicine and health policy and make sure they know you are there for them. Meet with them before you need them and establish a good relationship. Hopefully, when we need them, they will be there for us.
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About the author:
Paul O. Phelps, MD, is an oculoplastics surgeon at North Shore University Health System in the northern suburbs of Chicago and a member of the Academy’s YO Advocacy Subcommittee.