Practical Strategies to Achieve Your Health Policy Goals


As a physician, you can have a powerful voice in bringing about change in your community. Here’s how to go about it.

Fam Pract Manag. 2019 Mar-Apr;26(2):20-24.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

As busy family physicians, we see day in and day out how public policy issues in our community affect our patients and their health. Doctors have been at the forefront of passing laws that address issues as diverse as safe streets, food deserts, and sugary beverage taxes as well as raising the tobacco age, licensing direct primary care, and ensuring safe drinking water.

You probably have one issue in your community — and likely more than one — that you would like to address through advocacy and legislation. However, like many physicians, you may not know where to start or how to achieve health policy success with your busy schedule.

This article will use examples from my own advocacy efforts to demonstrate practical strategies to pass health policy legislation on the state and local levels. Even if you don’t personally agree with the politics of the examples, the principles behind them can help you achieve your health policy goals.


  • Physicians often see firsthand how public policy issues affect patients and their health.

  • In many communities, the voice of a local physician is highly valued and can help bring about needed policy changes.

  • Making connections with elected officials, understanding jurisdictions, finding allies, and mitigating opposition are keys to a successful strategy.


Engaging elected officials can be intimidating. Our perception of politicians as celebrity figures, unapproachable, too busy for us, etc., stands in the way. Especially in smaller communities and in the context of locally elected officials like city council members, village trustees, county officials, and even state representatives and senators, the opposite is often true. Here are four steps you can take to engage them effectively.

Understand what motivates elected officials. It’s definitely not the salary that comes with your village councilman’s position (which is likely voluntary) or the love of weeknight meetings that can last well past midnight or the riveting discussion of zoning intricacies. The motivation for most locally elected officials is that they really do want to build a better community. As a physician, you are in a prime position to help them get back to why they went into politics in the first place. If your health policy goals help your elected officials achieve their goals, they’ll be ready and waiting to listen to your solutions and work with you.

Make a connection. Most of us have interests outside health care and are involved in various civic organizations, clubs, religious organizations, or activities for our kids that our elected officials might also be involved with. Make the most of these social connections.

Also, consider “friending” locally elected officials on social


Dr. Grivois-Shah is a family physician with Banner University Medical Group in Tucson, Ariz., and associate clinical professor at the University of Arizona (UA). He is also medical director of Alvernon Family Medicine and the UA Mobile Health Program, which provides free care to underserved communities throughout Southern Arizona.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


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