Putting Advocacy To Work at Federal Advocacy Forum
4 minute read
I have to be honest, I did not really know what APTA’s Federal Advocacy Forum was when I registered to attend in 2019. All I knew was that it was the place to be if you wanted to be involved in professional advocacy, which was really great because my passion for advocacy was growing stronger every day.
Admittedly, I was both very interested and very nervous.
I didn’t know if I was prepared enough to talk to senators and representatives about the legislative issues currently happening regarding our profession.
I tried my best to stay up to date with those efforts and to think of ways that I could make them stand out when talking to politicians. That brought another problematic thought to my head though.
At the time, I was a second-year physical therapy student and I had not yet been on any full-time clinical affiliations. I wasn’t sure if I had enough experience to speak to any of the pressing issues we’d be discussing.
Even with all of that uncertainty I wanted to go and experience #PTAdvocacy in action and learn where I fit in to all of it.
Upon arrival at FAF, I immediately felt a different atmosphere than other professional conferences. Everyone was there for a reason and had a task to accomplish. That feeling was inspiring! I felt that I was part of a group with a true purpose.
I had been learning in my classes about the many fights that the physical therapy profession had won impacting our scope of practice, patient access, payment, and more. The most notable of those being the repeal of the Medicare therapy cap, which was a long-fought initiative that paid off in 2018. But what I was really learning was that there were still many initiatives that needed a lot of work and advocates behind, and I knew that I wanted to be one of them. I was ready to start advocating for my profession and showing everyone the breadth of what we can do.
The first thing that I learned was that it didn’t matter how much I knew about policy and legislation. As long as you came with a passion for your patients and the future of our profession, you would make a definite impact.
The speakers did a great job of preparing everyone for their meetings with legislators. They went over everything from the best way to communicate during our upcoming meeting with legislators to the best entrance to use to get into the building quickly.
One of the issues of focus at FAF 2019 was the ways to lessen the burden of student debt. We talked a lot about the newly proposed bill to add physical therapists to the National Health Services Corps. As a student, it was great to hear that our professional organization was taking this problem seriously. It almost felt that this was meant to be who better to talk about student debt than me, a student, who was being impacted by it in real time. I knew at that moment that I had something significant to add to this experience.
After a couple of days of learning as much information as we could about professional advocacy, policy priorities for APTA and the profession, and prepping for our meetings with legislators it was time to meet with our senators and representatives.
Since I am from a small state (shout out to Rhode Island!), I had the unique opportunity to be a part of a small group meeting with all of our state legislators. We made sure to talk about the NHSC bill and the many positive changes it could make for our country and our state. We also made sure to highlight the #ChoosePT campaign and the impact that physical therapy has had on the opioid crisis as well as the improvements this bill could have on student debt. Rhode Island sadly has a very serious problem with opioid overdose deaths, and listing PTs in NHSC would add our profession to our local community health centers and bring more resources to those who may not be able to access them otherwise. Our meetings were very successful, not only for communicating our information, but also for fostering relationships with our state legislators that will hopefully continue in the future. It was an unbelievable experience to be in those meetings, talking to our legislators, and putting #PTAdvocacy to work!
So, should you attend the upcoming Federal Advocacy Forum? Yes. Should you be worried that you do not have enough experience with legislation or advocacy? No. Do you need to have years of professional experience to be to make an impact? Definitely not. All you need is a willingness to learn about our current legislative efforts and a passion for improving the future of our profession.
Join us March 29-31, 2020, in Washington, DC, for APTA’s Federal Advocacy Forum. Registration is open now through March 16.
Erin Sayles, SPT, is a student at the University of Rhode Island and serves as the chair of the APTA Student Assembly Advocacy Project Committee. You can connect with Erin on Twitter at @ErinSaylesSPT.