Advocacy Advice: How to advocate through print media

As a result of a world where policies are constantly changing because of the pandemic, we at The Grassroots Pharmacist have been largely focused so far on providing updates on all of these changes. However, a key piece of our purpose is not only to provide educational content on the ties between health policy and the profession of pharmacy, but also to provide individuals with the necessary tools to be an advocate for enhanced patient care.

In the coming weeks, we will be adding to our resource center to provide advocates with the tools they need to be effective change-makers. As we add to the resource center, we will also be posting about these resources and how they can be best used. This week, we review ways to advocate to your community through the use of print media.

Why is community advocacy necessary?

Before we get into the nitty gritty, it may be important to discuss why advocating to your community is even important. Some have taken the stance that when thinking about health policy and advocacy, it’s only worth communicating with elected leaders. However, helping your community understand the value of the pharmacist is another important piece of advocacy. Unfortunately, there are currently plenty of gaps in our communities’ understanding of this value. Any community pharmacist who has worked the drive-thru and feels as though patients treat them more like fast food workers than healthcare providers has felt this gap. It has also been described in the literature. Bastianelli et al found in a 2017 study on pharmacists providing point of care (POC) testing that, although many patients believed the pharmacist was a good source of health information, many did not understand that pharmacists could provide services such as POC tests. This is just one example of the many gaps in this understanding.

Advocacy at its core is about education. When you’re advocating to your legislator, you’re educating them on a topic that matters to you in a hope that the education will result in them joining in your perspective. As a republic democracy, there is an incentive for members of our state legislature and congress to listen to their constituency as they formulate opinions on legislation, as these are the individuals that vote for them. Think about how many times we’ve seen large pieces of legislation pass when societal opinion on an issue shifts (for example civil rights and gay marriage). 

Educating your community on important issues such as those discussed on this blog and how they impact your ability to provide patient care services are vital pieces of the advocacy puzzle. Grassroots activism should not be limited to the statehouse or congress; the public needs to learn about these issues too. Where there are pros to advocating to the legislator, there are also pros to advocating to the public, as this can in turn result in additional constituent activists ready to advocate for your cause.

Ways to advocate to the community through print media

There are many ways to advocate to members of your community. One of the best ways to reach a wide audience is through online and print media. Sometimes you may be able to pitch topics for articles to reporters, especially if you have built up a relationship with them either personally or through a social media platform such as Twitter. However, a way to ensure that your message is entirely your own and consistent with what you are advocating for is by utilizing opportunities to express your opinions through the microphone of their medium. Editorials and letters to the editor are perfect ways to accomplish this. 

Editorials, Op-Eds, or commentaries are a great way to make your case on an issue with more room to explain why it matters to you. Many newspapers have editorial staff for reviewing and publishing important public perspectives on relevant issues. Some may have a process on their website to submit editorials for consideration, but oftentimes only a staff member’s email address is listed. If there is an important message that needs to get out to the community, consider submitting it to the member of the editorial staff for their consideration. Worst case scenario they say no, best case scenario you make a huge impact on your community! An example of an editorial written by a member of The Grassroots Pharmacist team can be found here.

Letters to the editor are another great way to educate your community. Overall, they tend to be shorter than editorials, often limited to a few hundred words, but they may have a higher chance of being published, especially as you look to larger papers, as compared to editorials. Consider what the most impactful parts of your message are and prioritize including those in your letter. We adapted our recent blog post about the census and have included it below as an example letter:

New York Times Article: Trump Seeks to Stop Counting Unauthorized Immigrants in Drawing House Districts 

Healthcare professionals should voice concern over the recent executive order that removes undocumented immigrants from census counts. Jeopardizing the integrity of census data by excluding millions of U.S. residents could have dramatic effects on access to healthcare.

Misinformed data can result in inappropriate allocation of billions of federal funds and misinformed data used by the private sector. Census counts are used to allocate funds for public health insurance programs and informs the designation of medically underserved areas. Healthcare organizations and businesses use census data to understand health demographics and rates of social determinants of health for populations they serve. A misinformed count could further amplify disparities in our country caused by systemic racism.

Census data has also been used to assist in the response to public health emergencies. The U.S. should not jeopardize data needed to respond to current or future pandemics.

This executive order will compromise information key to the critical infrastructure of the U.S. healthcare system and should not be accepted by members of the healthcare community.

Advocacy takes time

Regardless of how you are advocating to your community, it is important to recognize that advocacy takes time. We can’t expect our community’s perspective on the value of the pharmacist to shift after one op-ed, but we can recognize the significance of the education that we are providing. At the end of the day, perseverance and resilience are important traits to be able to fall back on. As you look to begin advocating through print media, you may face rejection of an article or idea, or no response at all. Don’t give up. Reevaluate. Reflect on why you’re advocating (to improve patient care) and step back up to the plate. Every effort in grassroots advocacy to our community leads to another individual we’ve helped educate on the value and potential of the pharmacist.

Published by The Grassroots Pharmacist

We are pharmacists passionate about engaging pharmacists in advancing health policy

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