Enacting advocacy in your pediatric practice can sound arduous. Pediatricians and their staff are people with full to-do lists and schedules, but as discussed in Part 1 of this series, pediatricians are poised as one of the most effective advocates for children and families. In their capacity as physicians, pediatricians see and witness many challenges families face, from food or housing insecurity to the effects of politics on immigrant families. In this article, we’ll cover how pediatric practices can begin their journey to advocate for kids, no matter the resources available.
Getting Started: The Power of Story
Among the most effective tools of an advocate is the ability to share a story. This doesn’t require public speaking or writing skills – although these help! – but instead a firm grasp of the story of your advocacy, focusing on why advocacy is needed and for whom it is for. Your advocacy story isn’t just the reason why you want to advocate for children, but can be crafted into an effective tool for negotiating with decision-makers, empowering families, and compelling others to your cause.
Advocacy is usually best enacted by impassioned participants. A passion for advocacy can come from many experiences, personal or professional. A pediatrician from an immigrant background may wish to advocate for families like her own; another might be inspired to improve the state of local childcare and education in response to the needs of their patients. This passion leads to a clear “why”, which is important for your story.
The stories of how pediatricians come to advocate for children are often emotional and sometimes deeply moving, and appeal to the need for change. Dr. Roy Guerrero’s plenary session at the 2022 American Academy of Pediatrics’ National Conference & Exhibition in Anaheim, CA is an excellent example. Dr. Guerrero gave a heartfelt and moving plenary session recalling his experience of the 2022 Uvalde, TX school shooting in which 19 students and 2 teachers lost their lives. He appealed to pediatricians to use their voices to vote for representatives that value the safety of children in the U.S.
Your advocacy story does not have to make headlines to be impactful. Instead, it should be clear, concise, and contain an emotional appeal. Rather than, “I want to improve access to vaccines,” you might practice a story such as, “Children in my community have delayed or missed vaccines because vaccine delivery to our area isn’t reliable, and the nearest hospital is far away. I want to work to improve vaccine delivery so that no child goes without this live-saving healthcare.”
AAP Chapters and Other Groups
The power of a group can help advocacy efforts in scope and efficiency. Once you have your story, a group of like-minded people and professionals can help you identify a goal to work towards. While goals with a broad scope are excellent, such as improving children’s access to mental healthcare, they are too big to address as individuals. Effective advocates need multiple people and strategies to break down goals into smaller achievements, such as spreading awareness through a social media campaign, speaking for mental health challenges at schools, and applying for grants that would fund social work in the community.
Among the first people physicians should speak to when interested in advocacy work is their local AAP chapter. Chapter groups and their work vary by state, but groups can illuminate the work they’re already doing and direct pediatricians to resources like funding, introductions to decision-makers, and connections to media outlets.
Other groups include existing advocacy organizations, community centers, schools, universities, and hospitals, but don’t discount neighbors and friends. Pediatricians have direct connections with entire communities from their work with families, and can connect to useful resources and aid by spreading the word right from their practice.
The AAP’s Advocacy Guide outlines the practice of “force-multiplying,” or the impact of recruiting other participants in advocacy who go on to recruit more advocates. This process can be as simple as asking patients’ families to speak to their teachers, who can reach out to more parents, and so on.
Be sure to spread the word to the right audience – people already working for the benefit of children, like teachers, daycare workers, librarians, and community centers are more likely to find likely candidates for your efforts than the people who work at the local senior center. This is how even the busiest of us can participate in advocacy and compound our efforts on behalf of kids and families.
Speaking Up: Media & Elections
For some, public speaking and writing are intimidating, while others find it exhilarating! In either case, don’t discount the power of the pediatrician’s voice and story when it comes to speaking to media sources and participating in election campaigns and activities. Both of these sources are invaluable for advocates, because both media and elections spread awareness to new audience and can recruit needed support.
As a respected public professional and advocate for children, pediatricians can pull the ears of local newspapers and news stations, town hall meetings, school board meetings, informational election meetings, and more. Here’s just a few ways to use media to your advantage, whether you prefer the spotlight or not:
- Write a “letter to the editor” in your local online or print newspaper on your goals and activities for children’s health
- Reflect on your advocacy story at local election campaigns to ensure candidates (and their voters) support your efforts
- Speak at pediatric conferences and talks, including lectures for residents or other engagements
- Speak as a pundit for local or national news organizations for trending topics that relate to your advocacy, such as the importance of getting vaccinated
- Record short videos for social media or post regularly on your advocacy work to engage your community
- Pay for advertisements in local media that link to advocacy work
As you can see, there are many options for engaging with media sources and in elections, but we saved perhaps the two most important activities for last: voting and holding office.
Voting for candidates that support children’s health and well-being puts key decision-makers in a position to effect massive change both locally and nationally. Voting and encouraging others to exercise their right to vote engages communities, builds change, and displays the needs of the community to elected officials.
Want to take it a step further? Run for local office yourself. Dr. Katie Schafer, a pediatrician in Birmingham, MI leads her city as commissioner, but you can also run for elected positions in your local AAP chapter, pediatric society, school board, and much more. Is elected office not for you? Pediatricians can aid campaigns they support through volunteer work, financial support, or spreading the word on their platforms.
Pediatricians are some of the most trusted health professionals and community members. In their daily work, they see the challenges patients and their caregivers face, and some are moved to act. The best thing we can all recognize about advocacy for children is that it need not overtake the work pediatricians already do – but can have massive impacts through small, consistent, and repeated calls for action.
You can learn more about advocacy from the AAP here, and by reading part one of this series.