How to Connect with Lawmakers-The Power of Telling the PA Story

When it comes to grassroots advocacy, few techniques are as effective as storytelling.

Storytelling is citing a personal example, describing your job on a typical day, illustrating through patient anecdotes why a barrier to PA practice should be removed, or putting a face on the profession. Storytelling can open conversations, challenge assumptions and enhance relationships with legislative offices. It is one of the most persuasive advocacy tactics you can use.

Why should PAs and students use storytelling in advocacy?

It delivers emotional impact. Telling a personal story stirs emotion. It engages the listener above and beyond data and facts and sticks with them for much longer. They are much more likely to recall a story before they recall a data point. A story also creates an intimate connection not just between the PA and the listener, but between the listener and the issue.

It brings PA practice to life. Using personal stories and anecdotes illustrates what PAs do, how they practice and their relationship with patients much more than a one page fact sheet. It illustrates the problem. Members of Congress know what the solutions are, because AAPA’s advocacy team tells them all the time. What they don’t often know is why issues are important and why they should care.

It makes issues local. Despite whatever lofty national political goals a legislator may possess, his or her decision making is determined by how the issue affects constituents. By mentioning your town, hospital, health center, university or practice, you make the issue relevant to the lawmaker.

It’s good science. Neuroscience has proven that storytelling can trigger neurotransmitters in the listener’s brain and reward their attention with a shower of dopamine. It creates a neurological response on a conscious and subconscious level.

How can PAs incorporate storytelling into advocacy?

Get personal. Talk about how an issue affects you, your colleagues, your patients, your practice and your community. Think of an anecdote or example from your practice that can illustrate the challenge your legislative proposal would address.  If you don’t have your own example, ask colleagues – and then in recounting the story to legislators, say “many of my colleagues have faced this very issue, and it is a challenge.  For example….”

Speak from the heart. Don’t be afraid to speak with emotion. Emotion helps you make a connection with the listener. If a patient encounter has moved or inspired you, or if it has encouraged you to improve the practice environment, tell a legislator about it. The powerful stories PAs have shared with legislators have created advocacy allies among many decisionmakers.

Speak the truth. The first rule of advocacy is: Never make something up. Just as you should never make up an answer to a question posed by a congressional office, never embellish a story to make a point. The best stories, anecdotes and examples are not only persuasive but also factual.

Keep it simple. A simple story is always more effective than a complex one. Your story doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner or worthy of a 60 Minutes profile. A concise example that illustrates your point in a living, compelling way will be far more memorable to a legislator’s staff than one with intricate details, unfamiliar medical jargon, and copious data points.

Give thanks and follow up. You’ve made a great connection during your advocacy meeting, told a personal story and brought the issue home. Now what? Most importantly, follow up after the meeting by thanking the person you met for their time and for their support of PAs in the community. Stay in touch with the office periodically and offer to be a resource in the community on health issues.

Advocacy relationships are not made by single encounters. It takes work to build relationships with congressional offices, but those relationships are immeasurably important to the profession and the patients PAs serve.

Questions about advocacy? Contact Kristin Butterfield, AAPA’s director of grassroots and political advocacy, at [email protected].