A PT and PTA student-led Flash Action Strategy held Sept. 20-21 focused on sending a clear message to Capitol Hill: More needs to be done to support postpartum health, and physical therapy can play a key role. That message came through loud and clear by way of nearly 4,000 contacts with lawmakers in 48 hours.
Despite busy semesters, students from multiple PT and PTA programs took time to participate in the nationwide effort, primarily using APTA's patient action and legislative action centers to concentrate their efforts during the two-day window of intense messaging. This year's focus was on the Optimizing Postpartum Outcomes Act (H.R. 2480), a bipartisan bill that would strengthen Medicaid's emphasis on pelvic care for mothers in their postpartum period. The legislation would raise awareness among postpartum individuals and their providers of the importance of pelvic floor physical therapy and other services offered under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
The effort was spearheaded by PT and PTA students with support from APTA and APTA Pelvic Health, which provided information to students who wanted to learn more about postpartum care.
Matthew Glassoff, SPT, a third-year student at the University of Hartford in Connecticut who helped to lead this year's push, says the program is effective because it introduces students to advocacy by meeting them where they are.
"It can be hard to get students to focus on advocacy due to the hectic demands placed on them," Glassoff said. "Having a structured day set aside to bring students together, sign letters to Congress, and post pictures on social media gives the space for students to learn about what APTA is doing for our profession. The Flash Action Strategy is not only a great advocacy tool, it also provides students with a clear and practical example of how legislative and professional advocacy can have an impact on the profession."
That structured short-term approach may have something to do with the program's longevity: 2023 marked the 10th anniversary of the Flash Action Strategy, which has generated 91,991 letters to Congress since its debut.
And the Flash Action Strategy isn't the only program aimed at getting students involved: APTA's Student Advocacy Challenge is a yearlong contest among PT and PTA programs across the country to see which programs can amass the most points through various advocacy activities, including participation in the Flash Action Strategy. Currently Regis University in Colorado is in the lead, followed closely by the University of Miami. Mercer University in Georgia — last year's winner — is in third place. But it's not over 'til it's over: the contest doesn't end until Dec. 31.
Laura Keivel, grassroots and political affairs specialist at APTA, thinks that getting students involved in advocacy early on pays off in both the short and long term.
"A strong student voice brings a fresh perspective and added depth to the profession's advocacy efforts, and members of Congress are paying attention to what they have to say on current key issues," Keivel said. "At the same time, programs like the APTA Flash Action Strategy and Student Advocacy Challenge are helping to show students that advocacy is something they can easily incorporate into their lives throughout their professional careers. We now have a decade's worth of PTs and PTAs who are willing to step up and make their voices heard."