5 Tips for Talking to Legislators

You’ve heard about networking with potential employers, industry leaders, and fellow students. But what about networking with legislators?

Optometry is a legislated profession, where state and national legislatures work together to determine the scope of practice in each state. Our legislators vote on the bills that affect this scope of practice, and it’s up to us to make our voices heard. Learn more about your state’s scope of practice here. 

This week, I was able to visit Nashville, the state capital of Tennessee, for “Day on the Hill” to speak with Tennessee legislators on behalf of optometry. I was accompanied by a group of fellow Southern College of Optometry students and staff doctors representing the Tennessee Academy of Optometric Physicians (TAOP) and its student chapter (ssTAOP). Students were able to schedule meetings with their representatives and spread awareness about optometry, as well as their concerns about our health field. The event also gave us an opportunity to see the process of legislation first-hand, an invaluable experience that every student should partake in. Here are five things I learned about talking to legislators that can help you prepare for AOA+.

  1. Meet your legislators first. Our staff doctors reminded us that the first time you meet a legislator should not be when you are asking them for something. Take the time to meet them before you begin to lobby for optometry. Not sure who your legislator is? Easily locate him/her by clicking here. 
  2. Find common ground. Initially, I was worried about meeting with a state senator. Our staff doctors had given us advice before our meetings, but I was scared that I would freeze up and forget all of my talking points! When I arrived to my meeting with some of my classmates, I learned that the senator and I had attended the same undergraduate college. It’s a small world, and little connections can make a big difference.
  3. Be grateful and respectful. Being a legislator is a busy job, filled with many meetings and hearings. Thank your legislator for meeting with you, and make sure to send a follow-up note thanking them for their time. Be respectful if you need to wait a while before your meeting, and be kind to any staff or secretaries you interact with.
  4. You are an “Optomocrat.” The current political climate is contentious, and many of us have strong feelings about particular issues. However, while meeting with legislators on behalf of optometry, you need to focus on the reasons why you are there. There are other routes available to voice your opinions, but these meetings are not the time nor place.
  5. Know the issues. So you learned who your legislator is, you scheduled the meeting, now what? Educate yourself on the issues that optometry is facing by installing the AOA-PAC app, available for Android in the Google Play store and for iPhone on the App storeaoa-os

Now that you know a little about talking to your legislators, it’s time to get to work! There are many opportunities to speak with your state and local legislators. You can get involved in your state’s optometric society, or even schedule your own meetings. One great way to get connected with the political side of optometry is through attending AOA+ this summer. AOA+ is the premiere legislative event for optometry students and new doctors. This year it will be held in Washington, DC on June 21st, 2017, immediately followed by Optometry’s Meeting June 22-25th. Travel grants are still available, so register now! For more on last year’s Optometry Meeting, click here!

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