Last week, the APTA Federal Forum in Washington D.C. took place to advocate for important topics to physical therapists. The Forum brought together APTA members, speakers from the field, and stakeholders on the discussion of regulatory affairs and federal priorities that impact the physical therapy profession and its patients, as well as on learning about new information that comes with a new Congress. Attendees had the opportunity to speak with their representatives in person about issues facing their state and the profession as a whole. Among those in attendance were our very own Regis DPT students and faculty members. Second-year DPT student Hannah Clark reflects on her experience on the Hill and why it is crucial to not only advocate for our profession, but to be involved as a student, in her following essay:
“Issues Discussed at the Capital”
Hannah Clark, SPT – Regis University
To fundamentally agree with the policy positions held by the APTA is an exceptional feeling. As a DPT student who is hoping to delve headfirst into pain management and advocacy for marginalized communities in healthcare upon graduation, my decision to pursue this profession has been deeply validated by attending the Federal Advocacy Forum (FAF). Witnessing leaders within the APTA address topics related to population health, patient choice and access, value-based care and practice, and research and innovation helped me to fully recognize the crucial role the APTA has in influencing the policies that impact our ability to serve society. For these reasons, it felt important for me to join the GAC team advocating at the capital and I was deeply honored to be selected.
Due to the recent success regarding the removal of the Medicare cap, we were able to spend more time becoming educated and advocating for the field of physical therapy in a broader sense. On Monday, we spent the entire day learning about the current political climate in congress from Nation Gonzalez at CNN, the societal impact of healthcare policy from Sarah Kliff at Vox, and attended breakout sessions that detailed information regarding federal policy, payment, the ACA, Medicaid, and IDEA. One of the most emphasized topics throughout the day involved the #ChoosePT campaign. The APTA reminded those attending the FAF of the real impact physical therapists can have on the opioid epidemic through offering vulnerable populations access to non-pharmacological pain management. Clear objectives were presented that tackled this issue in addition to intra-professional issues such as student loan repayment. Several policy priorities were presented for every state to choose from when planning their congressional meetings.
The following topics were addressed by the Colorado GAC team when meeting with legislative assistants:
- Our geriatric specialists spoke to the vital role in we play in exercise promotion and fall risk reduction in the community. Conversations were also had in the valuable perspective physical therapists can bring to park and recreational center design.
- Our pediatric specialists asked congresspeople to consider expanding the budget for IDEA as they have witnessed the impact this program has on the lives of children.
- Our outpatient clinicians provided examples of how they have successfully treated patients experiencing chronic pain and assisted them in weaning off opioids. These individuals also spoke to the measurable reduction in opioid use they have made in their local hospital system by implementing early access to physical therapy services.
- Our students asked our congresspeople to cosponsor SB970 (and eventually the same bill when it is brought to the house) that would add physical therapists to the National Health Service Corps. This would allow graduates to serve rural populations, often most impacted by opioid addiction, and would offer student loan repayment as an incentive.
- Our long-time advocates requested that physical therapists be added as community health center providers, as we are a vital element of the primary care team.
In addition to the invaluable time spent at the FAF learning about how physical therapists can impact healthcare quality and access in the U.S., one of the most important aspects of the weekend for my professional growth was getting to know the GAC members I accompanied. The people I spent time with exemplified everything I love and respect about our profession. They spoke with genuine care for their patients, integrity in leadership opportunities, intelligence in considering the complexity of pain, passion for their interventions, and commitment to social responsibility. Our conversations had a large impact on my personal development.
I returned to class following the Federal Advocacy Forum with a fresh perspective. I felt focused and calm as I approached coursework and simulation labs. Attending FAF granted me the opportunity to further shape who I aspire to be as a professional and world citizen. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and truly believe that if any student were to have the chance to participate in this event, they would foster a deeper appreciation for the APTA and for healthcare advocacy at large.