Why Advocacy Matters

Successful advocacy is a joint effort. As Nebraska’s Stephane VanderMeulen, PA-C, is fond of saying, “Our professional organizations are the voice, but PAs are the megaphone.” And she’s right. While AAPA staff works hard to promote the profession’s policy priorities to Congress, state legislators and administrative agencies, we cannot achieve legislative and regulatory success without the involvement of PAs and PA students from across the country. In fact, it is hard to overstate the importance of constituent engagement in advocacy. Why?

Here are four truths about PA advocacy:

If not you, then who? If PAs don’t speak for the issues that impact you, your patients and the profession, then who will? Right now in Washington, D.C., hundreds of health-related groups are seeking an audience with Congress to advance their own agendas. None of them is going to be speaking for the PA profession. Congress is making decisions about issues that might affect your ability to practice or to care most effectively for your patients. If legislators don’t hear from PAs and PA students, then these decisions will be made without our input. Not only is that a huge lost opportunity, but also it may result in policy that neglects the critical role of the PA profession.

All politics is local. As the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil used to say in his famous “all politics is local” quotation, legislators want to know “how does this affect my district, my constituents.” And guess who their constituents are? You, your colleagues, and the patients you treat. There is no better way to make our collective case to legislators than with real examples from PAs. Has your practice been affected by PAs’ inability to receive payment directly from Medicare?  Have you had to help your diabetic patients find and get in to see a physician who could order therapeutic shoes for them?  These local examples and anecdotes are not only welcome, they’re sought after by legislators, and they help us make our case more powerfully on Capitol Hill. They form the backbone of any successful grassroots campaign: because you make it relevant to the legislator, you create the case for his or her positive action.

Capitol Hill

Legislative Attention Deficit Disorder. No, it’s not included in the DSM, but many legislators suffer from it. And it comes from having to know a very little bit about a whole lot of issues, from having to be a mile wide and an inch deep. On any given day, members of Congress may be asked to speak or vote on legislation pertaining to issues ranging from agriculture to urban affairs. Health might occupy one small part of their day’s focus, and we certainly can’t count on many legislators having experience as a health provider. Among the House and Senate members of the 116th Congress were 18 physicians, two nurses, five dentists, 192 lawyers and one PA.  So, legislators need to hear that from you. Often PAs and students are worried that they don’t know enough about politics to meet with legislators or staffers. That’s okay. Legislators need you to be experts on just one thing: being a PA. Assist them with matters of health policy, teach them about the role of PAs in the healthcare system, and serve as advisors for health issues in the district.

Politics can be slow. The legislative process is long, and was designed by the founding fathers to be deliberate. For that idealistic group of constitutional framers, it meant that a group of firebrand newcomers couldn’t come to power in Congress and immediately upend the freedoms they’d fought so hard to win. For advocates like us, it means we have to keep plugging away at issues—sometimes for several years—before our issues can be elevated to the top of the legislative “pile.” Success on the Hill requires patience, persistence, and passion—qualities that PAs have in abundance. If we keep raising the profession’s profile with Congress, if we keep chipping away at barriers in state and federal law that prevent PAs from doing the most effective and efficient job possible, then eventually we’ll find that the chipping has given way to a purposeful ideal.

Have I convinced you yet of the importance of PA advocacy? Opportunity abounds. Join us for LAS 2021. Utilize our many advocacy tools at www.aapa.org/advocacy-central. Engage us through the virtual Annual Conference. Most importantly: be an advocate. Be the megaphone, speak for the profession. PAs always make a difference.

Kristin Butterfield, is AAPA’s director of grassroots and political advocacy. Contact her at [email protected] or 571-319-4340.