Name: Grace-Marie Vega, Class of 2019
Undergrad: Arizona State University
Hometown: Placentia, California
Fun Fact: One time, I drove a fire truck.
If you were there on April 12, 2017, you hardly need me to recount the evening to you, but if you were not, here’s what you missed at this year’s Denver National Advocacy Dinner. First, allow me to set the scene. Room 210 of Claver hall, around dusk. As you walk into the room, you are immediately impressed by the free pizza AND La Croix. You look around and realize you are in the company of well-dressed professionals, esteemed professors, and the most promising physical therapy students in all of North America. You are here partially to avoid yet another night of diligent and thorough studying, but in a truer, more important sense, to get a handle on professional advocacy and how you as a student can become involved.
The evening opened with an introduction from Dr. Ira Gorman. “Politics: you can’t ignore it, because it won’t ignore you!” And of course, he is right. Advocacy is inherently and perhaps lamentably inextricable from policy. Dr. Gorman went on to explain that in physical therapy, advocacy happens on different levels: at the level of the patient, the professional, the professional organization, and the healthcare environment as a whole. All of these levels are effected by legislation, and legislation can be effected by you. Dr. Gorman outlined political advocacy in a sequence of steps to follow.
First, you must arm yourself with knowledge. This can mean simply being aware of your professional organization, local government officials, and media you can utilize or connect with. The next step is research. This involves investigation of the issue you’re interested in, typically in the form of reading into the specifics and history of proposed legislation, and knowing a little about allies and opponents of that legislation. Then comes implementation. This means taking political action, possibly in the form of writing letters to or visiting elected officials, getting patient testimony, or connecting with legislative staff. The last step is reflection. Ultimately, healthcare reform will not happen by itself. It is up to you to be part of the creation of a system that best serves you and your patients. Your vote and your participation in democracy absolutely matters.
After Dr. Gorman’s talk, Dr. Hope Yasbin, Federal Affairs Liaison for the Colorado chapter of the APTA, talked to us about her own experiences in advocacy. Dr. Yasmin gave us the run down on a few of the biggest issues currently effecting our profession, including:
- Repeal of the Medicare Therapy Cap: an arbitrary dollar amount limiting outpatient physical therapy and speech therapy coverage.
- The PT Workforce Bill: which would incentivize PTs to build careers in underserved areas by offering loan forgiveness.
- The SAFE PLAY Act: which sets up school districts with concussion education for young athletes.
- The #ChoosePT campaign: an initiative to combat the prescription opioid epidemic.
If you would like more information on any of these topics, you might consider checking out the APTA action center webpage, and downloading the APTA Action app.
Following Dr. Yasmin was Regis’ own Ryan Tollis, a second year student and government affairs committee member. Ryan was chosen to attend this year’s Federal Advocacy Forum, a 2-day adventure/visit to Washington DC during which students, physical therapists, and lobbyists represent our profession and meet with elected officials. By Ryan’s account, it was a whirlwind of networking, briefing, and nonstop political action. Attending events like this is an awesome way to get involved, but there are other ways too. You can:
- Write to your members of Congress through the Legislative Action Center.
- Meet with your member of Congress or staff in their district offices or attend town hall meetings.
- Download the APTA Action App.
- Join the PTeam to receive timely legislative and regulatory updates.
- Contribute to PT-PAC and become a member of the Student Stars Club ($20 donation).
To wrap up what was, by all accounts, a thoroughly informative and enjoyable evening, Dr. Cameron MacDonald reminded us that advocacy that best serves the public is when professionals in every field are practicing at the top of their scope. It is our right and duty to be bold in the development of our profession, and to take ownership of the skills we work hard to learn in order to offer the best service we can to our patients. In summation, physical therapy has grown to be what it is today due to the efforts of our professional organization, and the advocacy of many therapists before us. The future of our profession will depend on the work we do to advance it.
By the end of the evening, you are very satisfied with the food (obviously), but even more so with yourself, for leaving as a more informed person than you were when you arrived. You tell yourself you will definitely be coming back next year, and you will be bringing all your friends.
Thanks to everyone who attended!
Special thanks to:
Speakers: Dr. Ira Gorman, Dr. Cameron MacDonald, and Dr. Hope Yasbin
Coordinators: Carol Passarelli and Ryan Tollis
Team: Kiki Anderton, Brianna Henggeler, Rachel Maass, Katie Ragle, Grace-Marie Vega
Funding: Dave Law and the Graduate Student Council, Dr. Mark Reinking and the Regis School of Physical Therapy